As Tories queue up to fill the Convict’s shoes, we are now officially in gameshow territory | John Crace

You might say it’s a longstanding Conservative tradition to suspend reality throughout its leadership elections. Only the Tories have been struggling with reality for years. Just think. The Ukrainians voted for a comedian and got a serious leader. Three years ago, the UK voted for a comedian and got a sociopathic end-of-the-pier clown. Someone who visibly recoiled at the truth. The whole country is now in urgent need of treatment for PTSD as a result.

Even so, we are now officially in gameshow territory. AKA the Tory party having a collective orgasm, as it exposes its deep dysfunction with countless deluded halfwits deciding they want to be prime minister while making promises they haven’t a hope in hell of keeping. I mean, Rehman Chishti. Not even his family knows who he is. Why waste everyone’s time? It’s not as if anyone is going to bung him a cabinet post.

And Grant Shapps. You know the party is really screwed when Grant Baby is one of the more serious candidates. And his only promise – apart from the obligatory unfunded tax cuts – was that he could help get a few MPs re-elected. Because that’s the big picture. The way to take the country forward is to make sure Chris Pincher’s constituents vote for him next time round. That will do it. Things are so bad that Rishi Sunak’s commitment to bankrupting the country marginally slower than any of his colleagues is looking quite attractive.

Still, we are where we are. So we might as well sit back and enjoy the shitshow. Watching a ragtag collection of Tories crash and burn while competing with one another to appear the least competent. Hell, Wimbledon’s over, the World Cup has been delayed until November, so we might as well get in the popcorn and look on the leadership race as this summer’s next entertainment. Sort of a third-rate reality show. Only with more laughs. And lies.

The fun began in the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster where Steve Baker was launching his latest pet project, Conservative Way Forward. The ideal bunker for the bunker mentality. They will never take Steve alive. The CWF is not really a thinktank, as no thinking is ever involved with anyone who aligns themselves to Baker’s derangements: it’s more a nostalgic journey back to pure Thatcherism where the market and low taxes solve everything. The opening video, which somehow left Boris Johnson off the list of recent Conservative prime ministers, was pure Little Britain.

Baker’s slogan was “happiness through freedom”. Or something. It made the Bruges Group look like intellectual heavyweights. He was backed by the irredeemably dim Lord Frost whose attempts to wrestle with the mind/body split has led him to attempt a full frontal lobotomy on himself. He now has no idea he was the man who negotiated the Brexit deal. He mumbled along in a monotone, while steadily losing his audience who were suffocating in the heat. “I’m excited,” he said. While flatlining.

Then came the first contender. The chancellor of the exchequer for the next 10 minutes or so, Nadhim Zahawi. It was painful. Nadhim is clearly clueless that the only reason he got the job was that the Convict was completely desperate and anyone with any self-worth would have said no. He was also virtually incoherent. Sentences were mangled and died without meaning. Whoever had told him he would make a good leader can never have heard him speak. Being marginally more familiar with word formation than Liz Truss isn’t the vote winner he might have hoped.

Zahawi first committed himself to abolishing planned tax rises immediately, seemingly unaware he was part of a lame duck administration that was prohibited from doing so. Like I said, not the sharpest. He then promised to cut yet more taxes and to cut departmental budgets by 20%. Nothing like taking a wrecking ball to the NHS and schools.

As the word salad continued, a young woman passed out in the heat. It was the most intelligent response of the day, though Tobias Ellwood, one of Zahawi’s surprise backers, pushed a few people out of the way to offer his help. Not that he wanted anyone to notice, of course. Meanwhile Nadhim just carried on spluttering. Oblivious to the drama. Oblivious to everything. Other than getting to the end. It had effectively been the shortest leadership campaign of the season. Even if he didn’t know the game was up, everyone else did.

Suella Braverman was among her people – her tribe – and her appearance at the lectern was greeted with whoops and cheers. She began by saying she was totally signed up to cutting taxes – she didn’t mention how she intended to fund this but we can all play fantasy economics these days – before insisting she wanted to preserve the Good Friday agreement by leaving the Northern Ireland protocol and the European convention on human rights. Her grasp of the law is tenuous. Even for an attorney general.

It was fitting, she said, that we were in the Churchill War Rooms because it was thanks to Churchill we were having this leadership election. You could have fooled me. I could have sworn it was because the Tories were mired in sleaze and the party had finally realised the country had got fed up with Johnson’s lies. She went on to say she hoped old people would do the right thing and not use too many of the NHS’s services. “I have a clear vision,” she said. There again …

The day’s final launch took place in the private dining room of the Cinnamon Club, where Sajid Javid was making his appeal to the party. He wasn’t going to go on about being a bus driver’s son, he said, while going on about being a bus driver’s son. Because going on about being a bus driver’s son hadn’t worked so well for him when he stood for leader three years ago. And he didn’t have any flash videos or promo materials. Though he did have a glossy manifesto that didn’t look as if it had been knocked up in the past five days.

We need a leader in the national interest, he went on. Though he couldn’t quite explain why it took so long for him to realise the Convict was a wrong ’un. Nor why he had been happy to support tax rises that he was now determined to undo. “The best prime ministers surround themselves with people cleverer than them,” he declared. Javid, though, appeared to be surrounding himself with complete lightweights. Sitting in the front row were Chris Philp, Rachel Maclean and Robin Walker. None of whom can boast a neuron between them.

“Only two candidates are really fit for this contest,” he ended. Without telling us who those two might be. Though presumably not him, Braverman and Zahawi. Who appeared to have done their best to disqualify themselves. But the rest of the week would almost certainly reveal some fresh idiocies. On with the motley.

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