Gagging for Rish! It’s a second coming for Sunak, the silent messiah | John Crace

As Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt drop out, the 1922 Committee manages to dodge a democratic vote

It all panned out about as well as the Conservative party could have hoped. A new leader – the right leader, as far as MPs were concerned – elected in a matter of days. No general election. Heaven forbid. A failed state couldn’t be doing with that level of democracy. Never trust the people you’re intending to govern.

Not even a parochial, controlled election of the Conservative gerontocratic membership. That hadn’t worked out so well the last time they had tried it. No, now was the time to reduce the electorate from 180,000 down to 357 MPs. That was the way to govern the UK. Men and women who could be trusted to put the interests of themselves and their party ahead of those of the country. A higher calling than simple patriotism.

Mind you, it hadn’t been entirely plain sailing. Boris Johnson had flown back from his holidays – how thoughtful of him to take a break when the rest of parliament was not on recess – to announce that he thought he had served his time in the wilderness. In his mind, a couple of months’ hard vacationing were more than long enough punishment for criminality, serial lying and general incompetence.

To be fair, it had also been long enough for 102 MPs. Enough to have secured the Convict a place on the ballot. That’s if you trust him not to have double-counted at least 20 of his supporters. Not many people did. Most just thought he hadn’t got the numbers and was trying to put the most positive spin on a failed comeback.

This time his MPs had looked him in the eye and said: “Thanks, but no thanks.” The country and the party had moved on from his comedy bullshit routine. Well, not quite all. There had been time for Nadhim Zahawi to make a complete idiot of himself – something that appears to be becoming a bit of a habit. Back in July, Zahawi had called for the Convict’s resignation. Now he was his biggest cheerleader again. Up until Johnson dropped out and he switched to Sunak. Half-witted doesn’t do him justice. The anti-career careerist.

Johnson pulling out just left Penny Mordaunt to take on the Chosen One. But she too couldn’t scrape together the numbers to involve the Tory membership. The 1922 Committee – along with the Conservative grandees who had spent all weekend begging MPs to do whatever it took to avoid a democratic vote – had got what they wanted: a coronation for Rishi Sunak.

Back in August, it had turned out that the Tories weren’t Ready for Rish!. But now, just seven weeks later, Rish!’s return was being treated as the second coming. We weren’t just Ready for Rish!. We were now absolutely Gagging for Rish!. Not that anyone had a clue what particular policies he had in mind, because Rish! had negotiated the entire three and a half days of the leadership campaign without actually saying a word to anyone.

He could have been standing on the same leadership manifesto as last time. Or he might have a completely different one. You decide. Presumably he now acknowledges it had been a mistake to raise national insurance contributions by 1.25 percentage points. Or perhaps he is now going to reverse the cut in NICs, which was about the one thing Liz Truss had done that didn’t crash the economy. And we can only assume that he’s going to admit that he had been a fairly hopeless chancellor and would now try to implement a growth programme that didn’t involve rampant inflation and higher interest rates.

Rish! was the silent one. After the anarchic, punk rock “let’s trash the establishment” of Trussonomics – “We mean it, maaan“ – we were moving into a new era of the carefully curated bloodless boyband, with Sunak as the frontman. Rish! says it best when he says nothing at all. Just seven years from becoming an MP to the top job.

He was to be the first person of colour to be prime minister. He was also going to be the richest. Working at Goldman Sachs and marrying the daughter of a billionaire – a woman keen to maintain her non-dom status at that – has its benefits. Rish! spends more on his gym and swimming pool than many people do on their homes. Keeping it real for the Little People.

Only a handful of MPs were in committee room 14 to hear Graham Brady’s proclamation. Probably because everyone already knew the result, with Mordaunt having withdrawn 10 minutes earlier. Those who did turn up were the real adrenaline junkies. The ones who thrived on the fix of voting for a new leader as frequently as possible. The clinically insane who kept on doing the same thing expecting a different result. The dealers waiting for a card that was so high and wild, they’ll never need to deal another.

Half an hour later, the same room was a great deal fuller as Tory MPs gathered to hear from their new messiah. Mordaunt arrived looking quite shaken and bruised. “I’m good,” she insisted. She sounded anything but. “I’m going to support the new PM.” There was a banging of tables as she entered the room. More out of sympathy rather than regret she didn’t make the ballot. There was no sign of Johnson. He’s always been a notoriously bad loser. Though perhaps he was just busy doing constituency work. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Zahawi and James Cleverly were also no-shows. Their days in government might well be over.

After a quick false start, Rish! sauntered down the corridor before entering the room without saying anything to the media. After giving a five-minute speech that was received with more banging and wolf whistles – he must have been kissing the badge – Rish! left, still not saying a word. Clearly he’s decided it’s his short cut to success. The trick will be to carry on saying next to nothing for the next two years.

The Tory MPs then emerged. Most were in a state of rapture. Or perhaps it was relief. After four or five attempts, they could finally pat themselves on the back for choosing someone who vaguely resembled a grownup as their new leader. “He spoke about unity,” swooned Alex Chalk. As if that had come as a revelation. Even Truss had used that line. But then, few people have shorter memories than Tory MPs.

Rish! then went to Conservative central office, where he was greeted by more adoring MPs, among them Matt Hancock. “Give us a job, give us a job, I love you, I love you,” screamed Needy Matt. Sunak blanked him. Giving hugs instead to John Glen and Jake Berry on either side of Hancock. Matt looked as if he was about to burst into tears.

There was just time for a brief, wooden clip for TV – he could have got his media training from Truss – in which he talked about unity and stability. Then Rish! went back into hiding. That was the easy bit. Convincing the country he can fix the economy and make the Tories re-electable? That will be a whole lot trickier.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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