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Will the next "talentless" Tory, please stand up?

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

That Liz Truss has had to resign after just 44 days from the office of Prime Minister should shock everyone. The fact it doesn't says everything we need to know about how collectively numb we have all become to the madness of British politics since 2016.

There will be a lot written about the tenure of the shortest-lived British Prime Minister in history. However, I think it causes us to reflect for a moment on what it says about the state of British politics.

Senator Ted Kennedy once said that "every morning, 100 Senators wake up, look in the mirror and see a President staring back at them." The Massachusetts Senator was referring to the delusions of grandeur that accompany the office of a United States Senator. He inferred that, once elected to the upper chamber of American politics, many automatically came to think they were somehow destined to end up at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue - talented or otherwise.

Look closer to home and (on both sides of the chamber of the House of Commons) there seems to be a growing belief that anyone can have a go at becoming the British Prime Minister. If you cosy up to enough friendly journalists, grab a prime time slot on Question Time, draft a chapter in a book that no one will ever read and have a profile piece in the Sunday Times, then you must be on course to walk through the famous black door in SW1. It can only be a matter of time.

Gone, it seems, is the rigorous scrutiny of candidates for the highest office in the land. Gone, it seems, is the grilling of politicians on what they believe and how they will actually deliver their vision. Gone, it seems, is any sense of self-awareness of what is and isn't the limit of their intellectual and political capabilities.

Everyone wants the top job and screw whether they are even remotely good enough to hold it. If the stars align, the column inches demand and social media can be whipped into a frenzy then maybe, just maybe, they can get a photo on the famous staircase in Number 10.

It seems facetious to even write that. But yet, this is the reality of British politics in 2022. Everyone wants the top job, no one wants to be part of the team. Being the solid cabinet minister is not sexy enough for today's crop of MPs, it seems.

When we consider great teams and great strategies, it is often the less well-known people who are the core components of the team's success. To put it in football terms, few people would race to pick out Dennis Irwin as a stalwart of the 1999 treble winning Manchester United team. Not when David Beckham, Peter Schemichel and Roy Keane steal the limelight. As Jamie Carragher famously put it, "no one grows up wanting to be Gary Neville", but in a successful football team, you do need a decent right back.

A singer can't perform a world tour without a live band and sound engineer, a supermarket can't sell it's stock without HGV drivers driving through the night to deliver the goods to store, a hospital can't run efficiently without the porters and receptionists, a school can't provide the environment for learning with a caretaker or a dinner lady. I could go on, but you get my point. In politics, a government cannot function without ministers of a high calibre doing their job who don't have both eyes fixed on how they can rise to the rank of prime minister whatever the cost.

Cast your mind back to when things got better between 1997 and 2010. Alan Johnson, Jack Straw, Peter Hain, Tessa Jowell, Margaret Beckett, John Hutton and Hillary Armstrong. Each of these Cabinet Ministers were political giants. Each had strong policy views and each had the ability to steer major pieces of legislation through the House of Commons and onto the statute book. They were trusted with Great Offices of State and they collectively worked day and night to do a good job in the hope that they would rise through the ranks to hold some of the biggest portfolios in British politics, but they knew the job of Prime Minister wasn't for them.

For those who have binged-watched the West Wing box sets, you will recall a moment when Josh tries to convince Toby to get behind Matt Santos for President. Toby, though in a perpetual state of irritation for his entire life, outlines what he believes are the essential characteristics of someone who wants to be the leader of their country. He says that the person must be "someone who thinks the gods have conspired to bring them to this place, someone who thinks that destiny demands of him, this service. If you don't have that kind of drive, that kind of hubris, how in the hell are you ever going to make the kind of decisions that stump everyone else in this country. How the hell are you ever going to hold that kind of power in your hands?"

The question now is whether any of the "talentless people" (as described by Charles Walker MP) in the Parliamentary Conservative party have the ability to provide those answers, that drive, that leadership and that level of intellect.


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