Absolute joke – how did we end up with terrible Tory leadership candidates? | Matt Snape

‘No one else can hold the Red Wall like Boris can.’ ‘He’s the best Prime Minister we have had since Winston Churchill – look at what he’s faced since coming to power!’ There may be some truth behind these statements that I’ve heard since Boris resigned as Prime Minister earlier this week, but they also show that we have allowed ourselves to end up in a situation where we have consistently selected and elected terrible MPs for a long period of time.

At this time of writing, Tom Tugendhat, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps have joined the race to replace Boris, as has Attorney General Suella Braverman. Can you name a single thing either of these individuals have accomplished? I can’t, and I am an avid follower of this Government’s activities. I can tell you what they are infamous for, though.

Take Tugendhat – he was embroiled in a row that resulted in him apologising to established conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, which is not a smart move when this is a man who is adored by many Tory activists.

Shapps made an error of judgement by associating himself with Tory bully Mark Clarke. I mean we all befriend dodgy people at times, but you are held to a higher standard as a minister. Other than that, I cannot name a single thing he has achieved. Same with Braverman.

But these are not the only candidates who put themselves forward to succeed Boris. Tory MPs get the first vote on who they want the final two Conservative leadership candidates to be before they allow activists to have the ultimate say over which one of the MPs’ two desired contenders can then become Conservative leader. I mean if I was still a fee-paying Conservative Party member, I’d have no idea who I’d choose to lead the Conservatives into the rest of the 2020s. So how did we get into this mess?

Isabel Hardman’s book Why We Get The Wrong Politicians brilliantly explores how we have ended up with a collection of spineless, unprincipled politicians to this day. She describes a political climate where MPs are rewarded for loyalty and for winning over journalists instead of studying the legislation they are about to vote for, where politicians react to events like the rise of Greta Thurnberg instead of having the self-confidence to tackle her insane arguments (for example, Andrea Leadsom said in response to Greta’s rise that she’d declare a climate emergency if she became Prime Minister in 2019), and where the system is now struggling to recruit the right candidates.

Are you reading this piece and thinking that you have solid principles and yet you have no intention of running for Parliament because party loyalty matters more than anything else? Then I don’t blame you, because Hardman’s ground-breaking book makes you realise that towing the party line pushes you up the greasy pole of becoming a government minister more than anything else.

But there are other reasons as to how we have ended up with awful MPs, that I cannot remember Hardman alluding to in her book. For example, Conservative associations in particular are keen to see if any parliamentary candidates have worked for an MP. That should not be a prerequisite for becoming a politician. They should look at how much time they have spent doing, you know, real jobs. Too many people see becoming an MP as a stepping stone towards career progress instead of a genuine opportunity to make a difference, and that’s another reason why we are getting the wrong politicians.

And now you can see it is obvious in hindsight how we have ended up with a selection of talentless candidates to take over the most successful political party in the world. Are Tugendhat, Shapps, and Braverman outstanding candidates, or just sell-outs willing to say and do anything to become Prime Minister? I will let you decide, but I think you know the answer. In my view, they are the sort of politicians Hardman’s words were referring to.

Too many MPs are resorting to alcohol and are facing broken marriages because of the psychological stress of becoming a politician. If you cannot get your personal life in order, how can you expect to run a country?

In fact, it is rather tragic that Boris was considered the best candidate in 2019 considering he has no principles, has led a life full of dishonesty, and has behaved in a shambolic manner since becoming Prime Minister. He is another example of the sort of politician Hardman mentioned in her book, especially as he allowed himself to be bullied into locking us down to combat COVID instead of having confidence in his classically liberal instincts. If those defeatists out there really do believe he is still the best thing that has happened to the Tories since Thatcher, then maybe those Conservative associations out there should start selecting decent, talented people to stand for Parliament. Can you imagine Boris defeating Thatcher during the 1975 Tory leadership race, during a time when all parties consisted of more talented MPs overall?

Sorry if this makes for depressing reading, but the Labour Party are in the same predicament, and an analysis of Boris’s performance as Prime Minister can be written for another day. So how do we get out of this mess?

Hardman is correct to argue that parties should have more open primaries that involve constituents in the selection process for parliamentary candidates, and that they could do more to attract people from all walks of life by compensating those who have given up time at work and money to become an MP, especially those on minimum wage jobs. That would help diversify the backgrounds of many politicians and make them more relatable to the people.

Despite this, Hardman’s book is not the final solution to sort out our parliamentary selection crisis. I read in a previous Mallard article that one way to improve parties’ candidate selection processes is to evaluate the psychological state of every candidate. As Why We Get The Wrong Politicians explains, too many MPs are resorting to alcohol and are facing broken marriages because of the psychological stress of becoming a politician. If you cannot get your personal life in order, how can you expect to run a country? Party bosses should look at whether their top candidates have seen or intend to see a therapist at some point in their lives, because therapy is one of the best ways to tackle your personal issues.

Also, parties need to change the culture of only allowing those who always obey the party line to get to the top. This goes back to my point about politicians having principles – why should MPs be punished for what they believe in? Why shouldn’t they be given a chance to change things? Parties are meant to have a diversity of views. I have known too many candidates get deselected for speaking out against their party or its leader when they would have made decent MPs themselves.

A friend once said to me you get the politicians you deserve. Maybe this recent Tory leadership race should teach us that. For too long, talented, principled people have been hounded out of the parliamentary selection process for all parties either because they cannot afford to become MPs, or because parties value Labrador-like loyalty all the time.

If one good thing can come out of the farce that is Boris’s premiership, it should be a realisation that parties’ selection processes need to be radically transformed, otherwise we will continue to end up with more uninspiring candidates in future leadership races. We are truly facing a parliamentary selection process crisis.

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