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13 July 2022

Sasha Swire’s Diary: The Conservative leadership race is a dog show – but much more savage than Crufts

The candidates have all begun to fire off accusations at one another: “Socialist!” “Tax dodger!” “Spad shagger!”

By Sasha Swire

So, I went on a weekend mini-break to Italy and came back with three ankle breaks and a month and a half later I’m patiently waiting to learn to walk again. It happened just outside hot Todi; I was arm in arm with Philip Dunne, the former health minister and MP for Ludlow, and slipped, my foot relocating almost instantly to quarter past the hour. Unlike in the UK, the ambulance came speedily. It deposited me at Perugia Hospital where three hefty men – without warning or painkillers – pinned me down and cracked it back to midday. My screams were so loud my husband thought I’d been deposited at the Saudi consulate by mistake.

Since then, I have been morphined up, plastered up, flown back, operated on, had metals inserted and told to remain horizontal with my foot levered in the air, just like the good old days. I’ve now had the stitches out and progressed to hobbling around my cobbled Devon farmyard in a boot that, on account of its uneven surface, seems to be realigning all my other bones as well. Them’s the breaks.

Boris besieged

I watched Boris Johnson get the boot as well, from that same horizontal position. This was the stuff of sieges, and it made for compulsive viewing. How would this constant high-intensity conflict end when the character inside No 10 was holding such a strong, static and defensive position? How on Earth would they get him out of there? They are tough, those Johnsons, let me tell you – Boris’s great grandfather, remember, was attacked by a mob of soldiers, hanged from a tree, and had his head smashed in with cudgels before being pulped to death. I’m not sure Andrew Mitchell and crew would have gone that far but the chase was on. On Twitter, Frankie Boyle had a much gentler solution to lure Johnson out; he suggested hanging some used knickers off the end of a fishing line.

Hounds of hell

As a Conservative, a huge, dark, cumulonimbus cloud of depression is hovering in a towering vertical mass above my head. I know it can only lead to one thing: hail and lightning formation. That formation being a possible Labour, Lib Dim and SNP tie-up. As the country goes to the dogs, we were off to the dog show. And it wasn’t going to be a nice, civilised Crufts affair. No, this would be more a case of a pack of undisciplined hounds (from hell) jumping over barriers to savage their colleagues to the point of death. I have been through five of these Hunger Games-style contests now, and they all follow a similar pattern, with everyone firing off accusations and unsubstantiated innuendos about the other. And so it came to pass again: “Socialist!” (about the worst insult of them all). “Tax dodger!” “Treacherous snake!” “Boris in a dress!” “Cosmic c***!” “Spad shagger!”

[ See also: How will the Tory leadership contest work? ]

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The red-trouser brigade

As time went by all kinds of oddballs came twisting out of the Westminster woodpile. From the pale, male and stale brigade we had one Bill Wiggin. The last time I heard or saw him was 23 years ago when he beat my husband and George Osborne for the Leominster candidacy. It was Boy George’s first political humiliation and he never really got over being trampled underfoot by someone he considered so inconsequential. I almost lost the will to live when John Baron said he was taking soundings from colleagues. Who from, John? The Loch Ness monster? Labour can only fantasise about our ability to produce such diverse candidates.

My other dread is leaving the choice of who should be our next prime minister to a measly 200,000 members of the red-trouser brigade – a group completely unrepresentative of the nation as a whole – and their shallow impressions of who is currently a decent politician. The MPs should make sure that the runner-up is a complete dud or, better still, crown the poor deluded favourite before he or she even gets in front of this mob, which might still happen if there is a clear winner.

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Wealth of the nation

My predictions, for what they are worth, is that this contest will ultimately boil down to a debate about maintaining tax levels or cutting them to solve the current fiscal deficit. And that the person who becomes leader and ultimately prime minister is usually the one viscerally loathed by the previous, or present, incumbent of No 10 because that is how the wheel turns in politics. Which means it will be Rishi Rich, the only man in the country at the moment who can afford to buy a tub of Lurpak.

Sasha Swire is the author of “Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power” (Abacus)

[See also: The Tories’ new nightmare]

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This article appears in the 13 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Selfish Giant