Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Unite and die


It is a curiosity of the English constitution that the replacement of the Prime Minister is regarded as a complete change of government, creating a clean sheet where what has gone before can be consigned to the dustbin of history as though the ‘new’ team somehow had no hand at all in any of it. Thus the new PM can vow to ‘correct the mistakes’ of previous administrations with an attempt at keeping a straight face. Admitting that there were mistakes and attempting to correct them is generally a good thing rather than a bad one, of course; but it presupposes that the person seeking to correct them recognises what is and what is not a mistake in the first place.

That brings us to the reappointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary. Appointed by Truss only a few short weeks ago and sacked by Truss just one week ago, the task facing Sunak was a very simple one of deciding which was the mistake – the original appointment or the sacking. He has, in effect, decided that the mistake was the latter, sacking someone for an open-and-shut breach of the ministerial code, and that appointing a woman whose fondest dream is to give herself a Christmas present by short-circuiting the legal processes to send a planeful of desperate people on an involuntary trip (handcuffs would presumably be a bonus) to a country with which they have no connection, run by an oppressive regime, and where their future prospects look poor, to say the least, was one of Truss’s better decisions. To Sunak, possession of a gaping hole where a person’s sense of humanity should reside is an asset; breaking rules can be ignored in his attempt to bring what he calls ‘integrity’ back into government. 'Integrity' - that's another word whose definition seems to be flexible.

A key part of his message to his party is that it must unite or die. But if ‘uniting the party’ makes it necessary to keep the Bravermans of this world sitting around the cabinet table, the two words are not as mutually exclusive as he seems to think. Just as he defines mistake in a way which many others may feel is perverse, so the rest of us may define ‘success’ in a way which might not be entirely to his liking. The good news is that, if he achieves both the unity and the death of his party (as currently seems likely) he may well go down in history as the most successful Tory PM ever. In footballing terms, a footnote to history might describe this winning goal as having ‘assists’ from Johnson and Truss. But it's the goal that will be remembered.

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