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A Very British Coup

A Very British Coup

rishi sunak in downing street

After month upon month of madness, the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has finally felt free to level with the press. ‘Boring,’ he proudly announced, ‘is back’. Of course it’s not that simple, but, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, it’s clear normal service is being resumed.

These days the Belgian city of Ypres is a nice place to visit, boasting fine fully restored mediaeval architecture, as well as all those museums pointing to its dark past.

After the calamity, the clear-up. It’s what tends to happen the world over, and what’s certainly happening, albeit on a hugely less catastrophic level, here and now.

Before we even get into the struggles and squabbles that make up the daily business of government, it’s worth celebrating the fact that we have a government at all.

The interregnum – face it, it was nothing less – that was triggered by Boris Johnson’s downfall was leading us down all manner of rabbit holes.

Liz Truss’s preposterous prospectus, jam today and let the poor pay, might have tickled the sweet spot of the Tory party’s affluent amateur enthusiasts.

But it took us to the brink of financial meltdown. And the return to grownup politics has been rewarded with a ‘dullness dividend’ of around ten billion pounds.

Doesn’t change the fact that there’s still a stonking great black hole in the nation’s finances, and the Chancellor’s sums upsum in a couple of weeks will be brutal.

A combination of Covid, and Putin’s vile war, have seen to that.

And the near certainty of deep inroads into a range of public services, adding up to a new age of austerity, will spark wholesale grumbles and howls of anguish.

The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, will take much of the flak. But so will Sunak – even though he was dubbed Dishy Rishi when he shelled out for the furlough scheme.

Nonetheless, this is the new new normal. As opposed to the old new normal, when Truss reduced political debate to a whirligig of insanity.

Twitter has already done its bit towards infantilising us all, making what’s just happened the most incredible thing ever and dissing the very concept of context.

But there are plenty of bruised egos within recent ministerial ranks. People touring studios to defend policies scrapped before they even got back to their desks.

Not any more. And yet, and yet … things could have turned out very differently.

No question Boris Johnson did come close to getting enough Tory MPs to put him in the running for another crack at the leadership.

And here’s a truly alarming what if – had he got over the line.

The Conservative members almost certainly would have put him back in Number Ten, and the nation back in line for another almighty crisis.

Remember, the commons Committee of Privileges will give its verdict quite soon on whether he misled the house over Covid lockdown-busting parties.

He said in effect ‘nothing to see here’, when it’s a matter of public record they were having a right knees-up in Downing Street.

So it’s hard to see how the committee can fail to throw the book at him. Meaning there’s every chance he’ll face a by-election, which he could well lose.

How does that work then? A Prime Minister who isn’t even in parliament? Yet another fine mess? And the rest.

Of course his loquacious outriders have been peddling the line that a whipped vote would consign that lot to the bin.

But would it? The Tory majority has been whittled down a fair bit, thanks to resignations and sackings.

Meaning it’d only take something in the mid to upper thirties of Conservative MPs to flip the balance. And there are at least that many who feel betrayed by the man.

So, yes, they could not just huff and puff, but actually blow the house down.

Will be Johnson’s problem, as he’s just a backbencher. Would have been the nation’s, if he’d been Prime Minister.

It says something about Sunak’s judgement that when Boris suggested only a week or so back that they join forces he told him to do one.

Politely, mind. The posh boy from Southampton was after all head boy at the (non rugby playing) Winchester College, whose motto is ‘manners maketh man’.

Quite what the voters will make of him as they suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous spending cuts remains to be seen.

There are also little local difficulties like the almighty ding-dong over the choice of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary. A space to watch.

But for now the polls point to a collective sigh of relief that the Westminster psychodrama is at last over.

Labour’s lead, according to a Friday survey for The Times, has narrowed by nine points.

Yes, they are still miles ahead, but what will really float Sunak’s boat is the question of who the punters think would make the better PM.

On that front, Sir Keir Starmer is a piffling four points in front.

Of course shadow ministers are not admitting it, and couldn’t have made it happen anyway, but the Tories’ election wipeout is looking like the one that got away.

The opposition will doubtless take comfort from the fact that Rishi’s riches might yet come back to bite him.

Not only is he thought to be the best heeled member of parliament, he’s actually worth twice as much as our new king.

Meaning, while he is planning to slum it in the pokey little flat above the shop at Number Ten, he could probably buy half the street if he felt like it.

Also, he’s got a rather nice five-bedroom mews house a couple of miles or so up the road in Kensington to fall back on.

Then there’s Chequers, the tasty hovel in Buckinghamshire where Prime Ministers can enjoy a bit of R and R after a busy week.

But here again, Sunak’s a jump ahead, as he already owns a Grade Two listed Georgian manor house on his parliamentary patch in Yorkshire.

A bit of a trek of course, but against that it does have its own indoor swimming pool, gym, yoga studio, hot tub and tennis court. So could be worse.

No great surprise then that the locals often refer to him as the maharajah of the dales.

As well as the youngest in more than two centuries, he is after all our first British Asian Hindu PM.

Begs the delicate question of whether he’ll come up against Britain’s shameful minority of racists.

After all, Disraeli did, because of his Jewishness. So does poor Huw Edwards of The Beeb, just because he’s Welsh, for god’s sake.

So how did the local farmers react when Sunak took over his constituency from one-time Tory leader William Hague?

‘Ah yes Haguey!’ said one. ‘Good bloke. I like him. Bit pale, though. This one’s got a nice tan.’

Was that grotesque anti-wokery? A way of somehow legitimising nastiness by making a joke of it?

Or was he simply telling all bigots the man’s a good ’un, so they better just suck it up?

Let’s hope so.

Watch Peter’s report HERE

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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