The Conservative party and Republican party have a lot in common

What they share is much more than a right-wing ideology. One commonality is that they both have former leaders (Boris Johnson and Donald Trump) who are lying, egotistical, narcissists. Another is that despite their manifest faults that should in a sane world disqualify them from any leadership position, both ex-leaders seem to be viewed favorably by a vociferous base of the party faithful (Conservative party members in the UK and Republican primary voters in the US). The third is that both party establishments seem to have lost their grip on the party and are now struggling to regain control. The final similarity is that both parties seem to have given up on having any specific agenda or party platform and now seem to be going with whatever the leader says. Recall that in 2020, the Republican party did not even bother to come up with a new platform for their convention, essentially saying that their platform was whatever their nominee Trump said.

In an earlier post, I said that it was not clear to me what had caused Liz Truss to quit on Thursday just after she had survived the PMQ session on Wednesday afternoon and seemed to have at least partially regained her footing, even though she had to publicly contradict her own new Chancellor of the Exchequer on the issue of pension benefits. I said that there must have been something going on behind the scenes that we would learn about later.

It turns out that what may have pushed her out the door was the chaos surrounding a vote on fracking on Wednesday evening that had been brought by Labour. This is a fiercely debated issue in the UK that arouses strong local passions and it was initially thought that Conservative party members were not going to be ‘whipped’, i.e. forced to vote the party line. They could vote as their local constituents wanted them to.

Then at the last minute, they were told that it was to be treated as a ‘confidence’ vote, meaning that they had to vote the party line. That was reversed again at the last minute. But these changes came very late in the process leaving Tory MPs confused as to what they should do. (To understand the quoted passage below, one should know that in the UK parliament, any vote that is not by acclamation involves MPs leaving the chamber and walking into different rooms representing their choice of vote.) The ensuing chaos was the last straw with even the party whip Wendy Morton and deputy whip Craig Whittaker seeming to quit in disgust at the mess they were put in.

The peak of the chaos is hard to fathom, but it was probably witnessed in the House of Commons voting lobbies at about 7pm on Wednesday. As the fracking debate came to an end and climate minister Graham Stuart said that the vote was no longer being regarded as a confidence motion, chief whip Wendy Morton was seen leaving. Moments later, with MPs confused over what on earth they were meant to be doing, there were confrontations and reports of skirmishes. When one MP asked Morton how they were meant to vote, several witnesses said she replied: “I don’t know. I’m no longer the chief whip.”

Back in the lobbies, some Tory MPs were brought to tears, being consoled by Labour MPs. Stuart was informed his closing speech had “finished off” the chief whip. Meanwhile, Whittaker, who had the task of getting MPs into line, was heard making the outburst: “I am fucking furious and I don’t give a fuck any more.” The phrase was reported around the world as a sign of the apparent state of the British government.

As the pressure increased, other MPs said Truss was seen racing after Morton, losing her security detail in the process. It culminated in a 45-minute meeting in the Tory whips’ office. Eventually, the two whips had unresigned, with a 1.30am briefing from Downing Street that MPs would be disciplined for failing to back the government in the vote. As one veteran from the Brexit wars era noted: “They’re making Theresa May look like Winston fucking Churchill.”

That was not all the chaos. There was another row brewing backstage over a leaked comment Truss reportedly made disparaging former cabinet minister Sajid Javid.

So there you have it. Incompetence both at the policy and basic party management level led to Truss’s ouster. The level of chaos was something that would have been beyond the imagination of even the writers of The Thick Of It.


  1. ardipithecus says

    Well, now that Penny Mordaunt is retiring, it’s up to Rishi Sunak to lead the government in such a way that Johnathan Pie is assured of plenty of material. I doubt he’ll disappoint.

  2. Holms says

    “When one MP asked Morton how they were meant to vote…”
    What a telling glimpse of the conservative mind.

  3. Dunc says

    @2: That’s just a general feature of party politics -- members are usually expected to vote in accordance with their party. How strong those expectations are and how tightly they’re enforced vary a great deal, but the core idea of party politics is for members of a party to vote in a co-ordinated fashion.

  4. KG says

    Another important factor leading to Truss’s resignation was the “resignation” (which seems to have been dismissal in all but name) of the vile Suella Braverman (aka Cruella de Vil) as Home Secretary. This was due to her breaking rules about confidentiality and security of government business, and the issue is now causing problems for Sunak, who reappointed her. Braverman belongs to the sub-faction of the Tory hard right that prioritises hatred of immigrants over economic “libertarianism”, so Truss probably lost crucial support when Braverman was ejected -- and Sunak needed her support to succeed Truss, specifically to keep Johnson from getting the 100 nominations he needed.

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