An alternative Tory leadership contest

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 31 May 2019 in Comment

Sketch: You would learn more from putting the 11 candidates in an Escape Room and filming it than from a TV debate

Image credit: Iain Green

It was quite something to watch how quickly senior Tory sources went from demanding those delighting at Theresa May’s departure show some humanity to describing leadership rivals as “suicide bombers”, but that’s politics for you.

Indeed, whatever you think of the candidates to replace Theresa May, it’s impossible not to look at the rivals without feeling some sense of sympathy for the people tasked with picking one of them to become PM.

So how to choose? There are now 11 candidates for the job, leading the BBC to announce it will hold a series of debates and interviews in an effort to whittle them down. It should be a wonderful celebration of democracy, with the 11 rivals thrown into the cut and thrust of the battle of ideas, in front of the public’s very eyes, before returning home and allowing just over 300 largely unknown Tory MPs to choose which two go before the members.

The proposed plan, according to the BBC, is to have one mass debate, involving all 11 of them, followed by a Question Time-style show with the final two candidates, moderated by Fiona Bruce, and then one-on-one interviews with Andrew Neil.

It looks complicated, given there are now more characters than in Game of Thrones, but how else can we decide which candidates we support, before not getting to play a part in choosing? A quiz-show format with questions based on the workings of the EU would be one possibility, and there’s no telling what problems it might pose, keeping in mind that Jeremy Hunt is currently unable to reach a solid position on the question of his wife’s nationality. And he knows his wife.

But quizzing all 11 (at the time of writing) would take a very long time, and a better option, to make it less confrontational, given they will need to get along afterwards, might be to adopt a kind of Love Island-style set-up. It would be pretty easy – you’d just abandon the candidates on an island, or perhaps a remote mountain, and leave them to learn the basics of forging alliances, while also doing some incredibly awkward flirting. If you wanted to, you could even collect them from the island and bring them back afterwards.

There would be regular food and medicine drops to keep things interesting, while also replicating the conditions they’d face in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Which, just to be clear, some of them actually advocate.

If you wanted you could also add weapons, though that would admittedly move it further from Love Island and closer to a kind of Battle Royale situation. But on the plus side, it might draw in the youth, who, just to reiterate, will play no part at all in actually deciding the winner. Also it would essentially be the realisation of the Big Society in practice, so David Cameron would be pleased.

Unfortunately that looks very unlikely at present, with the BBC clinging to some sort of interview format, but if there’s any room for compromise they could at least take advantage of the fact Jeremy Kyle is now available for work. It certainly seems a wasted opportunity to see Boris Johnson hooked up to a lie detector test while Kyle screams, “You’re scum! You’re scum! You’re scum!” at him over and over.

Sadly, though, even this approach now looks tricky, given Dominic Raab has taken it on himself to publish his ‘Clean Campaign Pledge’ for the other candidates, with a list of fantastical demands such as: “I will not speak ill of my fellow Conservatives” and “I will not engage in personality attacks on others”.

And while it’s currently unclear if raising the fact he became Brexit Secretary without knowing the UK relies on its ports for its imports constitutes a personal attack, it looks as if we’ll find out.

But then maybe we should be asking what we actually want from the next PM. If it’s the ability to deliver Brexit then putting them all together in an Escape Room might be the best option. We could make it World War Two-themed, if that would help attract the candidates. Or if we wanted to recreate some of the challenges faced by Theresa May in real life, we could tell them they are going to meet Angela Merkel, and then see which of them are capable of escaping from inside a car.

It would probably get a good audience, with voters – sorry, viewers – gripped by the sight of Dominic Raab entering his fifth hour of smashing his own face repeatedly off the door, while bellowing incoherently about the Blitz spirit, as Esther McVey wanders round interrupting the other candidates to ask if the money for the room could come out of the welfare budget.

Sadly political correctness will probably rule all of that out. In fact, with Jeremy Paxman now in retirement, we won’t even get to watch the traditional pre-election ritual of him tearing them to pieces live on TV, unless someone could find some sort of live bear to do it instead. Then we’d really find out who was tuss enough.

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