The fight for the UK Tory leadership could get very ugly

I have just been able to view the first season of the BBC TV satire The Thick of It that ran from 2005 through 2012. It purports to show the brutal backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes of UK politics and the media. Peter Capaldi is clearly having a great time playing Malcolm Tucker, the prime minister’s ruthless ‘enforcer’, who gets to do the PM’s dirty work such as getting ministers to take the blame for any mistakes even if they are not at fault, firing them, and then writing their ‘resignation’ letters. He is a domineering and aggressive person whose is constantly scheming and whose in-your-face belligerence cows everyone around him. His very appearance in their office makes their hearts sink. He wields tremendous power over even ministers of state, ordering them and their staff around. He is the PM’s spin doctor manipulating the media, This clip gives you a good sense of his character.

The show was the creation of Armando Iannucci who later went on to do the same thing about US politics in Veep. Both The Thick of It and Veep are notable for the massive amounts of swearing. The show’s Wikipedia page says the the creators actually hired a ‘swearing consultant’ to advise them on how to ramp up the swearing.

It is filmed in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style using shaky handheld cameras and characters speaking over each other. The show is an utterly cynical portrayal of politics, politicians, and the media. On thing I noted is that going by this show, British politicians seem to be extremely sensitive to how they are covered in the press and the opinions of political columnists, feeling the need to respond quickly and aggressively to any negative coverage. I do not think that it is so extreme in the US. Of course, British newspapers are also very aggressive since they are often openly partisan in their sympathies and do not make any pretense of their desire to boost their own party’s fortunes and run down the opponents.

Watching it while all the drama unfolds in the UK made the two-decade old series seem very timely. As the competition to replace Liz Truss goes down to the wire on Monday, we can expect a bare-knuckle fight between supporters of Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, and Boris Johnson. There are some Conservative MPs who cannot stand Johnson at any price and are threatening to resign or force a general election if he should win.

“There’s a lot of people who still just hate each other – that has not changed since the summer,” said a Mordaunt ally. “It’s only intensified. That is why Penny could emerge as the genuine unity candidate. There’s Boris people who look at Rishi and just really can’t stomach him and won’t want to serve under him – and I doubt they are going to be quiet in any situation in which Rishi is prime minister. She has none of the baggage. If not first, she is everyone’s number two choice. Her private numbers are much higher than publicly listed.”

The ‘anyone but Boris’ vibe is really strong among members as well as well as the public, according to another MP: “I don’t think anything is sewn up. There’s a realisation that if he won, I think a whole load of the party would just refuse en masse to obey orders.”

That may be just bluster on their part, though, a threat they will not carry through.

Meanwhile. Jonathan Pie delivers Liz Truss’s political obituary.


  1. EigenSprocketUK says

    We make the mistake of not realising that the final decision lies with the same swivel-eyed impeccable-judgment blue-rinse fundies who chose all of our last few prime ministers. The MPs know this, which doesn’t bode well if Johnson is in the final two. At the time of writing, though, there are only two declared (and Johnson is waiting to lob that particular grenade).

  2. KG says

    Current declarationms of support (according to the Guardian) are 140 for Sunak, 57 for Johnson, 24 for Mordaunt. Johnson has not yet declared his candidacy, so we can be pretty sure his camp’s claims to have 100+ who will nominate him are lies. It’s still possible he, and even Mordaunt, will reach the 100 target (there are 357 Tory MPs in all, so 136 have yet to declare a preference), but my guess at this stage is that neither will do so, as those who want to back the winner above all decide Sunak is it.

  3. KG says

    The most likely case in which Sunak doesn’t win is if Johnson decides he can’t, and so says he never had any intention of running (he would never admit he couldn’t raise enough support). Then Sunak-haters (who include but are not limited to Johnson-worshippers who believe Sunak “betrayed” Johnson) would plump for Mordaunt. I don’t have a clue who would win with the membership if it comes to a vote between Sunak and Mordaunt. Of course there will be a lump of hardline racists who would automatically vote for Mordaunt -- and probalby a group of hardline sexists who would go for Sunak, but most bigots are capable of making exceptions when convenient: “OK, Rishi may be a w**, but he’s one of us” or “Penny’s almost one of the chaps”.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    Favourite thing I saw when Capaldi was announced as Doctor Who: a TARDIS with the words “POLICE TELEPHONE BOX: officers and cars respond to urgent calls. Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off.”

    @Eigensprocket, 1: you make the mistake of not realising the process seems designed to, ahem, encourage the candidates to come to an arrangement where it never reaches that point. The parliamentary party are heavily opposed to ever giving those fuckwits who pay to be members a say ever again, indeed, I’m surprised the rules haven’t changed already to eliminate their say entirely. They’ve been drastically curtailed either way.

    I’d ignore all the statements about how many MPs are supporting who. It’s academic until the official figures are out. I heard Sunak and Johnson had a meeting, presumably a repeat of Blair and Brown’s famous Granita lunch at which Blair promised to let Brown have his way as chancellor for a decade in return for stepping aside and allowing him to be leader, avoiding a messy competition. That worked. It appears Johnson/Sunak didn’t. But who really knows?

    I think, right now, it will come down to who Mordaunt throws her weight behind when she doesn’t get enough. With an eye on the membership, it’s possible she’ll back Johnson… but who really knows. I’ve long given up trying to predict this nonsense (apart from predicting Johnson could be back, to howls of scepticism at the time…)

    What I do know is that there is no good answer for them at this point. ANY winner will be disastrous. Which is great! I’m so used to this self-destructive shit being the mark of the Left. It’s so refreshing to see the right tearing itself apart in this way when up to now the one thing you could admire them for was their single-minded ability to unite to gain or retain power. Meanwhile all Keir Starmer has to do win the next election with a landslide is not die or get caught taking money from/buggering Jacob Rees-Mogg. Fingers crossed.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    probalby a group of hardline sexists who would go for Sunak

    I hate being in the position of having to defend the membership of the conservative party, evil bunch of reactionary bigots that they definitely all are without exception, but… I can name THREE women who’ve been made leader of the Conservative party, and Prime Minister.

    I cannot name even ONE woman who has been leader of of the supposedly progressive, supposedly left wing Labour party, the main opposition. (Note: I can name Margaret Beckett and I can name Harriet Harperson -- both of them were mere “caretaker leaders”, a position the Tories never mess around having.)

    The Lib Dems have had just one actual leader who was a woman, and that for only just over three times longer than Truss was PM (i.e. under five months).

    In fact, the only party in the UK who’ve had more female leaders than the Conservatives are the Greens, who appear to have operated a “no men in sole charge EVER” policy since 1992, an approach which has led to general electoral success in Brighton and literally nowhere else.

    And on race -- there’s never been a minority ethnic leader of any party, unless you’re using the SJW definition of “minority ethnic” which can include anyone who isn’t pure-blooded Aryan… in which case annoying the Tories come out ahead of Labour AGAIN with Benjamin Disraeli and Michael Howard both representing for Jews, whereas Labour can only point to Ed Milliband.

  6. Mano Singham says

    JM @#6,

    I think that if Johnson had the required 100 backers, he would have put his name forward officially because he thinks that he has the party membership support to win. I do not think that he cares one bit about fracturing the party by becoming leader again. Egotistical narcissists like him only care about getting power and being in the limelight and are arrogant enough to think that they will somehow achieve next time what they could not achieve earlier.

    So how I read his withdrawal is that he did not have 100 backers and is now trying to act like his withdrawal is for the good of the party.

  7. ardipithecus says

    The Johnson campaign was claiming 102 while the confirmed count was 58. It just would not have felt right if Johnson hadn’t lied about something.

  8. says

    So BoJo’s out of the running? There are no words to describe how upset I’m not. I gotta say I’m relieved to hear there’s enough Tories smart enough to see how pathetic BoJo 2.0 would make their party look.

    Oh well, at least he left us laughing at his silly-assed claim that he’d got the requisite 100 MP nominations…

  9. Holms says

    The fight for the UK Tory leadership could get very ugly, but on the bright side, also very funny. “I’m not running but I totes have the support if I wanted it” -- what a comedian!

  10. John Morales says

    When Jonathan Pie does his political schtick, it’s superb.

    That style of allusive and analogic linguistic humour that characterises Red Dwarf</i.

    Other topics, well…

    (Obs, IMO)

  11. sonofrojblake says

    I’m disappointed he’s pulled out. A 2nd Johnson term now could have destroyed the unified right in this country for a generation, possibly permanently

  12. sonofrojblake says

    Well, as I predicted in#4, the membership were successfully excluded from the process.

  13. sonofrojblake says

    @Raging Bee, 16: I do see what you’re saying there, hahahaha and so on.

    But for clarity, in case you meant your comment literally: I wouldn’t vote for someone who buggers Rees-Mogg on the basis that R-M would likely enjoy it, and I wouldn’t vote for someone who takes money from him, because it’s axiomatic that the only reason they’d be doing so is in return for some service rendered, corruptly.

  14. Tethys says

    Rome holds the current record for rulers of Britain in a year, with Four Emporers in AD 69. Vespasian ended up being the last Emporer standing in late December, so ya’ll still have time to tie for most worthless chaotic leadership per annum.

  15. says

    Technically, I’m not sure the Four Emperors count here: those weren’t homegrown British leaders, IIRC they were Roman generals fighting each other (via their respective legions, of course) mostly in and around Rome only, and I’m pretty sure neither of their actions or decisions had any noticeable effect on events in Britain itself — at least not until Vespasian finished the job and actually consolidated his power over the Roman state apparatus.

    Also, upperclass Romans tended to have better hair than BoJo, and no small-government or free-market fantasies underneath the hair. (The Caesars were said to have “hair in a generous mop,” but they still managed to comb it.)

  16. Tethys says

    Raging Bee

    those weren’t homegrown British leaders, IIRC they were Roman generals fighting each other (via their respective legions, of course) mostly in and around Rome only, and I’m pretty sure neither of their actions or decisions had any noticeable effect on events in Britain itself —

    Boudicca definitely noticed. 69AD is the year she died.

    It’s arguable that several of the current politicians are homegrown British leaders. Rishi’s background is stereotypically elite and far removed from the typical British citizen.
    Oligarchs from Oxford, married to a billionaire from India (?) he met while getting an elite education at Stanford, AND whose resume includes working as a hedge fund manager for Goldman Saks. (aka the US firm that caused the recent world wide recession and banking crisis)

    He just appointed someone who seems widely hated to his cabinet as one of his first actions.
    I can’t keep up with all the resigning, yet somehow that person doesn’t go away!?

    It does shed light on the process the USA founders adopted to elect the head of state. We opted for a term limited Heir and a spare approach. I don’t even want to imagine what horror would be unleashed by the craven Mitch McConnell if the GOP Senators had the power to chose the POTUS.

    Dunc ~ , Rome never ruled Britian as a whole

    Wot? The Romans named it Brittania, and it did not include Hibernian or the land of the Picts. Before Rome, it was called Albion. IIRC, Wales isn’t even considered part of Britain until the medieval period.

  17. Dunc says

    Tethys, my point is that what the Romans regarded as Britian is not equivalent to modern Britain. Of course they felt that only the bits they ruled counted, that’s imperialists for you. The Britons of the time almost certainly had a very different view of the matter, but that’s not really relevant to my point that there’s nothing in 69 CE that maps to modern Britian, so your comparison isn’t remotely valid.

    As for Wales, it doesn’t really make much sense to talk about it until at least a couple of hundred years after the Roman period, by which time the Welsh were frequently (and poetically) bemoaning that they were the only real Britons left (as far as we can tell from the surviving material in later sources, anyway). The Romans clearly thought it was an important part of Britain or they wouldn’t have schlepped all the way to Angelsey to put down the druids. Geoffrey of Montmouth must have thought they were British, or he wouldn’t have included so much Welsh material in his Historia Regum Britanniae, and Gildas was pretty clearly of the same opinion, as far as I recall.

    Wales doesn’t get annexed to England until the 13th C, but England is not Britian (and vice versa).

  18. Tethys says

    Prime ministers today seem equally representative of the average Brit as the 4 Caesar’s were. Luckily modern heads of state don’t come with an attached legion to march around pillaging and laying waste to their adversaries territory.


    Tethys, my point is that what the Romans regarded as Britian is not equivalent to modern Britain.

    That’s a silly point, since clearly Rome naming it Britannia in the first place tells you exactly what Rome regarded as Britain. Why would anyone think modern Britain is the exact same land as Roman Britain?

    Of course they felt that only the bits they ruled counted, that’s imperialists for you.

    You also just claimed that the bits ruled by Britain now are the only thing that counts as Britain. Ireland and Scotland may disagree with that assessment.

    The Romans clearly thought it was an important part of Britain or they wouldn’t have schlepped all the way to Angelsey to put down the druids

    Angelsey was the last refuge of the resisting Druids, who had an entire system of colleges that Rome utterly annihilated. Sadly few details of this system are in the written record, though there are a few scattered references to Druids and nobles from all over Northern Europe sending their children to be educated in what is now England. Of course you kill off the scholars and any religious leaders if you wish to utterly subjugate a population. Wales managed to remember and preserve it’s real name, and Rome never quite managed to subdue it entirely.

  19. John Morales says

    Post title: “The fight for the UK Tory leadership could get very ugly”
    Actuality: The fight for the UK Tory leadership did not get very ugly

    So goes prognostication, though of course ‘could’ makes all the difference. Handy.

    (In passing, there’s a difference between conditionals and quantifiers which most people don’t grok)

  20. sonofrojblake says

    It’s always fun to debate what counts as England, Britain, Great Britain, the UK etc., terms some people throw around interchangeably. England obviously is Britain… except, is the Isle of Wight? It’s England, but it’s not part of Great Britain, the biggest island. Scotland is part of Great Britain… most of it is, anyway there are a LOT of other islands. Wales isn’t England, but it’s also part of Great Britain, and all of those are part of the UK… for now. Ireland is mostly, er… Ireland, except Northern Ireland, which is the UK, but ALL of that is the British Isles, which also includes Shetland, Orkney, Hebrides, Scilly Isles, Channels Islands and never forget Rockall. The Isle of Man is a British Isle, but it’s had its own Parliament for ages and laws don’t really align with the UK in a lot of places (not least in the matter of tax…).

    How relevant is any of this to the subject? Beats me.

  21. sonofrojblake says

    Arguably the fight for the Tory leadership did indeed get ugly, the ugliness in question being the way the 1922 committee got the fix in to ensure that the membership -- the stupid, stupid, Boris-loving, Truss-voting membership -- were handily excluded from the decision making process.

    Consider: you’re a paying member of the Conservative Party. The person who stabbed your beloved Boris in the back has no shame over his treachery and stands as leader. Over the course of many weeks, his campaign falters. You vote against him. He loses. Your preferred candidate is named leader. You’re jubilant.

    Then just weeks later the high-handed parliamentary party has a quiet word in her ear, and forces her humiliatingly to resign. The same crowd set the rules of the next leadership contest, and the practical application of those rules mean that the person you voted against last time, the treacherous backstabber who brought beloved Boris down, and the LOSER of the contest you voted in (and heaven help us a bloody w*g to boot) is simply waved through as leader over a weekend, and you’re not consulted at all.

    Sounds pretty ugly to me.

  22. John Morales says

    sonofrojblake, I shall be blunt:

    England has conquered Wales, it has conquered Scotland, and it has conquered a chunk of Ireland. It dominates other dominions (heh), basically islands here and there, all nearby. But still, there are

    So, now, it is the United Kingdom. With a Prime Minister.

    How it’s relevant?
    Well, imagine the difference between “now, it is the United Kingdom” and “for now, it is the United Kingdom”. 🙂

    (At least some of its dominions have not-insignificant independence movements)

  23. John Morales says

    Most saliently, it’s a Monarchy, constitutional as it may be.

    For reference:

    Here in Oz:
    “His Majesty Charles the Third, by the Grace of God King of Australia and His other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.”
    In the (for now) UK:
    “His Majesty Charles the Third, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.”


    “Within the Westminster system in each realm, the King’s government is headed by a prime minister. Appointment and dismissal of prime ministers are common reserve powers that can be exercised by the King or his governors-general.”

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