The Gist: An Tóryocht

Liz Truss has resigned. She'll be replaced by next week. Why is Boris Johnson still in the running to resume his old job? This is the Gist.

The Gist: An Tóryocht

As is obligatory, we start by pointing out that Liz Truss will be, by a considerable margin, the shortest serving Prime Minister in British history.

It is rare to see a person of such limited talents encounter their limitations so swiftly and comprehensively. In a way, that is just another way of reflecting how rarely mediocre women reach the top job.

The Tory party has been long committed to the promotion and protection of deeply mediocre men. Mostly this is an impulse of self-preservation, given how regularly that description applies to its elected members.

One look at any of the recent UK Cabinets of None of the Talents will confirm this as one of the party’s ongoing core principles. This is a bench that runs so shallow that Jeremy Hunt, a man with the air of a small boy suddenly asked to manage a nuclear power plant while on a school trip, is considered an indispensable Chancellor.

But, as we see this week, the party’s longing for a jolly good fellow who will tell them what they want to hear runs deeper than ever before. The response to Liz Truss’s Government By Pamphlet has been to turn to the one man they can be sure will never have any pamphlets or plans at all.

Forget Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne. This is the Tóryocht. The Tory party members are, once again, in pursuit of their great love, Boris Johnson.

To understand why, we need to understand just how important lying has become to Tory members.

The hedgehog and the fox

The dumb fox is wrong about many small things but the stupid hedgehog is wrong about one big thing.

Historically, the Tory party has always been a dumb fox, wrong about almost everything, but not much caring which thing was brought to the fore by any given leader.

But since 2016 it has chosen its leaders according to a simple metric- were they the stupidest hedgehog?

Brexit has been the giant stupid thing every hedgehog Tory leader had to say the wrongest thing about.

Whoever would deny reality most brazenly won each leadership competition.

So the party bred fantasists, by evolutionary pressure.

After being elected leader, each of them encountered an external force that couldn’t be denied, were damaged or destroyed by it, and were replaced by someone even more willing to say black was white.

Theresa May's assertion of Britain's power was sunk by the EU’s negotiating strength.

Boris Johnson, by Covid (a serious problem which he, fatally, couldn’t take seriously).

And, in a trice, Liz Truss was finished by financial markets and, to be clear, her own insufficiency.

But the Tory party never reflected on why their leaders kept ending up as hedgehog roadkill.

It was simply taken for granted that the next one just had to be wronger, harder.

Now the party itself, even if carefully averting its eyes from the polls, can see its own electoral oblivion in its peripheral vision.

Some MPs whose jobs are on the line are belatedly hearing the alarms sounding. But the members have the luxury of one last bang of the snooze button- all they need is Johnson, their human duvet, to come back and tell them what they want to hear.

The Financial Times had a clear video, full of numbers and facts, about the ongoing and permanent costs of Brexit. It is the great error that can’t be acknowledged by the UK’s political system. And, as evidence of that error piles up on all sides, the Tory members have to work harder and harder not to acknowledge it. Nobody ever wants to admit they made a mistake, let alone a mistake that has damaged your entire country’s future, slashing their wealth and the opportunities for their children. The unique promise of a Boris Johnson leadership is that the members will never be asked to face up to the truth, because that’s just not what Johnson is about.

This is the Tory party’s choice- elect a technocrat who will make them acknowledge the consequences of their actions- or to spend the last few years before the next election with a man jovially assuring them it’s all just grand.

Without a cataclysm, the UK's dumbest hedgehogs will continue to plod on towards the motorway of the next election

That's why, if Johnson can persuade about a third of his MPs to put him on the ballot, he is the most likely winner.