A day at the races

John Maier reviews the recent glut of political leadership contests

Wikipedia Commons

This, despite my sustained campaign of passive resistance, is to be a summer of sport – televised sport. If, like me, when it comes to sport you prefer the metaphorical to the actual, then there has at least been a position of compromise that doesn’t put you in the compromising position of paying attention to sport. Yes, everybody’s favourite kind of race – the political party leadership race – has been underway in earnest, with virtually every political institution competing to see who can put on the raciest race of the lot.

The Tories:

The Tories, as ever lusty for power, were the first off the blocks. In the end it was hardly a photo-finish. Liam ‘inevitably-out-foxed’ Fox and Stephen ‘wait-for-the-surname’ Crabb appeared to fall, somewhat voluntarily, at the first hurdle, calling into question their understanding of a race. Michael Gove, taking aim at Boris from behind, ended up shooting himself in the foot with the starting gun, and the second round was barely underway when Andrea, perhaps overwhelmed by her strict dietary regime, became distracted by the thought of a tangible steak in the future. So, in the end, Theresa won a nine week leadership race in the record time of one morning – a result even the Russian track and field team could be proud of.

In the face of the terrifying post-referendum chaos, it might be easy to forget that we’ve actually taken back control, among other things. We’ve also taken back our sovereignty, our country, and our democracy – which raises the question of where to put it all. Now, some slow-learners have branded Theresa May’s election ‘undemocratic’, given that she was effectively selected via Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal. But actually, if you think about it and then stop thinking about it really quickly, this is actually just a literal enforcement of the one-man-one-vote electoral principle. Unfortunately the one vote belongs to Andrea Leadsom.

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So we’re stuck with Theresa May – a kind of Cruella de Vil without the charisma – who combines evil and dullness in quantities that are somewhat disconcerting. In media circles this is known as having a ‘safe pair of hands’. As news of Theresa’s victory flooded into the Westminster bubble, Tory MPs scrabbled over her like the last lifejacket on a sinking ship, ushering in a period of easily contained excitement as we waited to see who would end up at Theresa’s very safe right-hand.

In the end Theresa impressed – the cabinet choices could hardly have been more consistently boring. In fact, as day turned to night (both actually and figuratively), the BBC cliché thesaurus was rapidly exhausted. Gluten-free-George-Osborne, Phillip Hammond, was a ‘safe pair of hands’.

Phillip Hammond

Even Amber Rudd’s hands were looking secure.

Amber Rudd

Eventually, to avoid recruiting a cabinet whose obsession with safety verged on timidity, May threw in wild card one-man-band-of-bigotry Boris Johnson, whose hands are certainly not safe but are at least hilariously tied. A rather safe move if you ask me.

So that’s the result we’ll have to live with. As Theresa says, ‘Brexit means Brexit’: a slogan which, while superficially cryptic, does explain why she was so quickly fired from her job as a dictionary compiler.

Labour:

The Labour leadership competition, now an annual event, is not so much a race as one of those wrestling matches where they smash furniture over each other. With Jeremy Corbyn managing to rebel against his party from the front bench, he was eventually challenged by Angela Eagle, who announced her bid with all the confidence of a lame badger in culling season. Next turned up Owen Smith, the Labour party’s answer to a question that nobody asked; in response Jeremy announced a five-point plan to tackle inequality, repetition, discrimination, repetition, and something else. Gripping stuff.

Some say Labour is in crisis, which would explain the threats of violence, intimidation, legal disputes, and why Jeremy increasingly wears the look of a geography supply-teacher on playground duty in a high security prison. On the other hand, there is also talk that Labour is having an ‘existential’ crisis, which would explain why it’s turned into a smoking Frenchman in a black turtleneck and hasn’t spoken for three days. It’s difficult to know what to think.

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America:

Speaking of finding it difficult to think, there’s also an election happening in the USA. Like the American version of everything, their races are larger and less sensitive to irony. Melting waxwork of himself, Donald Trump, held his convention last week, which, in the spirit of his whole campaign, had the quality of being carefully orchestrated by someone desperate to end Donald Trump’s political career. The Donald seemed particularly keen on shouting his entire speech, perhaps according to some slight confusion over the idea of reaching a silent majority, or maybe because the autocue was accidentally written in capitals. Overall the Republican’s unifying message seems to be that Hilary Clinton should be in prison, which, if Trump wins, may well be the safest place to be.

 

Yes, the terrifying results just keep on pouring in! So if you don’t want to see the scores, look away now… and probably keep looking away. Forever.

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