If Boris Johnson becomes prime minister, Ruth Davidson will not be able to wash her hands of her part in putting him there
‘Hypocrisy’ is an over-used word, but in this Tory leadership contest, there has been little choice other than to apply that once most damning of political accusations repeatedly, given that we have had such a clownish collection of ne’er-do-wells vying to be our next prime minister, including one even launching his campaign in a circus tent.
Past words, deeds and promises have all been found wanting in a Tory psychodrama that started with a crude plan three years ago to take back control but has since left the UK now helpless to the vagaries of a beauty parade that includes former drug users, serial philanderers, those in breach of money laundering rules, racists, and intellectual buffoons, all competing to take the keys to Number 10.
And in a race where one of its oddest competitors is running as the normal one, and where his revelation of smoking opium at a wedding in Iran is simply seen as good manners, what would happen if any of them were to really engage with the people of Britain who have been most affected by years of this government’s concerted efforts to hammer the poor and punish the most vulnerable.
Out in the real world, what culturally acceptable mores would Rory Stewart be forced to engage in as he assimilated with the hoi polloi in Easterhouse or in the less desirable areas of Perthshire, where the Stewarts have their sumptuous family seat?
But Stewart is by no means the real villain in this piece. In fact, he and Sajid Javid are the good guys, the moderates in a competition of extremes, which is why Ruth Davidson, presumably metaphorically, patted Stewart on the back for his efforts while saying he could never win but gave her endorsement to Javid.
Javid’s pitch was the same as Davidson’s when she took over as leader in Scotland – to abandon central casting to opt for something different. He said he wanted to do at Westminster what Davidson had done at Holyrood and it seemed churlish to point out that that would mean being in opposition.
Davidson’s skills are many, but they are over-egged by commentators not based in Scotland, and while some argue that she has sabotaged her own efforts to be seen as the kingmaker in this contest, by throwing her support behind Javid, who has already upset Scottish nationalists by opining that he would “not allow” a second independence referendum, she is showing her skill at riding two horses at the same time – appeasing the moderates while reading the runes and making sure that no mud sticks.
So, while Scotland’s First Minister responded to Javid’s perceived arrogance towards the Scots on social media by saying: “Memo to Tory leadership candidates: a majority of Scots – independence supporters and opponents alike – will not accept being told by a Tory PM that we are not ‘allowed’ to choose our own future”, Davidson knows too that Javid is unlikely to ever get to make that choice.
But in backing his efforts to become the next leader, she has cynically attempted to divorce herself from the man that will. Scotland has, yet again, become a pawn in a Tory game of political one-upmanship.
The current front-runner to decide the country’s future is Boris Johnson. He is a liar and a cheat. He is also Davidson’s biggest electoral nightmare and after an internal poll for the Scottish Conservatives last year showed that Johnson as PM would reverse all the Tory gains made under Davidson, ‘Operation Arse’ was launched to try to discredit the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
But despite their best efforts, and his worst, his currency kept rising, which is perhaps why Davidson, conscious of her own precarious polling in the next Holyrood election, was wise to not formally back him. For Davidson, Johnson’s litany of misdemeanours pale into insignificance compared with his threat to the Union and her future career.
And it is in this manoeuvring that Davidson has committed the biggest hypocrisy of all – one that could seal her fate and that of the Union. For while she reportedly backed ‘Operation Arse’ and her antipathy to BoJo’s character seems real, she has since said she would support him if he ever was to become PM.
And while many in Scotland will argue that the hype around Davidson and her influence in government has all been based on a fantasy, her endorsement, no matter how tacit, matters, because as Javid emphasised at the launch of his campaign, without the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs, he might not be running to be PM, but leader of the opposition.
If Johnson, as predicted, is our next prime minister, Davidson will not be able to wash her hands of her culpability in delivering yet another old Etonian into Downing Street. And for Scotland, that means an arch-Brexiteer, willing to prorogue parliament and who knows or cares so little about devolution that his winning plan was to announce a tax cut for high earners in England and Wales which would effectively see Scots taxpayers footing the bill. It says a lot about the man that amid the uncertainty of Brexit, the prospect of the UK crashing out of Europe with no deal, and the impact that would have on jobs and the economy, that his first thought is to bung the rich a bribe to get him into power.
This week there will be further rounds in this freaky leadership contest, whittling down the final pack to just two, but for now, this is Johnson’s contest to lose. He was the figurehead of Vote Leave, he has the backing of Donald Trump, he has a reputation that should disqualify him from high office, and yet in these times, these times that he was one of the key architects of, anything seems possible and for Davidson, it is a recurring nightmare that prospective PM Johnson simply puts Scotland on a fast-track to independence whether he ‘allows’ it or not.