- 21 Jun 19
And then there were two. We know now that the next UK Prime Minister will be either Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson. But, as the familiar colour pieces might ask at a time like this: what are they really like, these two brave men, who are lining up selflessly to do their civic duty? The problem, of course, is that we already know far too much about both...
The Tory leadership race has finally been whittled down to two, and the UK will have a new Prime Minister by the end of July.
The media's eyes are fixated on this development. Forget that the current Tory Government doesn't have a working majority to pass any legislation. Forget that Parliament is bitterly divided down the tribal lines carved out by a referendum that happened three years ago. Forget, too, that this will likely not matter in 30 years time, if climate change experts are right in their predictions. Forget all that and more, because the Tories need their shiny new toy.
Already, two weeks of campaigning by 11 prospective Tory leadership candidates have shown that the UK really is in dire straits. We're way past pretending to have conversations about how to bring the country together anymore. This leadership race is solely about saving the Tory party from itself. Or extinction. Or both. And the fact that this is all playing out in the public eye - not to mention under the bewildered gaze of people all over the world - makes it even more despair-inducing.
Because last night, the UK was left with Johnson & Hunt.
I'm only 26 years old. I'm young enough to remember when people laughed at Boris Johnson's antics as Lord Mayor of London. That scene of him on a zipline. Him swinging from a bus. His ludicrous hair when he played rugby for the cameras and charged at stricken children. What hilarity.
Perhaps we were more innocent then (although looking back on Johnson's previous journalistic and political career, we really shouldn't have been). It was only when Boris Johnson started to spiral closer to the drain hole that is the Tory party's inner circle that many of us began to wake up to who and what the man really is.
And I'm not talking about the Boris Johnson that calls Muslim women post boxes, or who said African people have watermelon smiles, or who called gay people bumboys - there's enough examples of him saying awful, despicable, grotesque things out there to keep you fuming for weeks. No, I'm talking about the elitist Boris Johnson. The Boris Johnson who advocates tax cuts for the wealthy, despite the massive wealth divide in the UK.
The word austerity has been used so often in UK political discourse over the past nine years that we've actually forgotten how devastating it is. But it is devastating. People have died as a result of medical complications, waiting on universal credit. Disabled people have suffered immeasurably. The comedian Francesca Martinez made a moving speech on Question Time last week where she got to the real heart of what austerity does to actual human beings living on the breadline. Austerity, as a government policy, was implemented by David Cameron and George Osborne when they swept into power in 2010. Boris Johnson was a member of the Etonian-dominated Bullingdon Club at Oxford, where he became best pals with Cameron and Osborne. Much like them, he doesn't care what his Government's policies will do to those on the lowest rungs on the social ladder. The only real difference between them is that he just might implement their awful policies with less of a slick PR machine to try to throw out smoke and mirrors. For Boris, simply lying about things normally does the trick.
The only thing that could possibly give me any kind of comfort about Boris Johnson is that, as a deeply untrustworthy Tory politician, he's more likely to sell out the DUP than Theresa May was. There's already talk that Johnson could agree to a Northern Irish backstop and use a referendum to justify his case. If that were the case, the DUP would likely go apoplectic. And the thought of seeing Sammy Wilson's jaw drop as the DUP get hung out to dry by the so-called Conservative and Unionist Party is the only comfort I can imagine from the impending sorry mess.
As for Boris' threats of leaving the EU with a no deal, despite attempting simultaneously to position himself as a master negotiator; or his cosying up to the deeply divisive and unpleasant Farage and Trump, despite saying he's going to bring the UK together; or the fact that most the Tory party have lined-up behind him because presumably they've all been promised Cabinet positions in the future... Well, everyone would be wise not to trust a single word that comes out his mouth.
Then there's the 'safer' option, so we're told. The establishment favourite. The one who's less gaff-prone because he has the personality of a car exhaust.
He hides it well, but Jeremy Hunt is an equally dangerous prospect.
A few years ago, I became good friends with a Belfast doctor, who had studied medicine at a university in England. Having been held back for a year, she was beginning her first year as an F1 junior doctor. The reason for her being held back was because of a tweet she'd written in anger during her fourth year of medicine. It was around the time of the Junior doctors strike, when junior doctors were begging the then Health Secretary – yes, Jeremy Hunt – to reconsider a contract which would slash their pay. She wrote an off-hand tweet with the hashtag "#JeremyCunt" at the end of it.
That one misplaced tweet set her back a year. I remember hearing this story and thinking about how ludicrous it all seemed, because, by anyone's standards, you could understand the necessary anger behind a throwaway tweet like that. Here was a man who had, in 2005, co-authored a book titled Direct Democracy: An Agenda For A New Model Party, which literally called for the NHS to be privatised. That anyone could think that this man wouldn't spend his time as the top dog in the UK's health service trying to disrupt it and make it non-functioning as a public service - in order to better hone his sales pitch to the private markets - is also ludicrous.
Now, Jeremy Hunt has swapped his role and has been upgraded to Foreign Secretary (proving that even the slimiest politicians can fail upwards). He is one of two people who might be in charge of the UK at a time when Donald Trump is openly saying that the NHS would be on the table in any trade deal.
So, if he wins, the UK will have to say goodbye to the health service it has known and – its fault notwithstanding – loved since it was formed after the Second World War, in 1948.
How lovely a thought is that?