Rishi Sunak has set himself five key tasks to achieve before the next General Election. The current civil war within the Conservative party suggests these five may not be enough to win over his fractious MPs, let alone a struggling country. He should remember (and Boris Johnson with his classical education could certainly remind him) that over two thousand years ago the great Hercules had twelve labours – each to be performed within a single day: two of these labours should be added to Rishi’s own list.
One was the cleansing of the Augean stables, filled with immortal cattle producing enormous quantities of dung daily and not cleaned out for thirty years. Hercules decided on a radical solution and diverted the course of the Alpheus and Peneus rivers, which performed the task within the allotted time. The other was the killing of the many-headed monster Hydra: as soon as one head was cut off another grew in its place. He chose to sear each decapitated neck individually with a sword so there would be no further re-growth.
Hercules’ legendary history is relevant because of the latest bombshell, with Boris being unanimously confirmed as a serial liar by his Conservative MP colleagues on the Privileges Committee of the House of Commons. Instead of recognising his responsibilities and apologising, Boris immediately lashed out at the Committee condemning it for bias. The Committee rightly considered this as a further contempt and upped the penalty to 90 days suspension as an MP (now academic because he has chosen to stand down with immediate effect) adding a denial of a permanent Parliamentary pass, so he is no longer allowed to access Parliament. They are now preparing a follow-up report on the behaviour of Conservative MPs who have blatantly tried to undermine both the process and the findings of the impartial cross-party Committee. It will make interesting reading.
This level of contempt, the list of lies, and the severity of the penalty is unparalleled for any MP, let alone an election-winning Prime Minister. However it is worth remembering that Boris only won his landslide election victory by telling further lies. During the Brexit referendum he had pledged that the UK could have its cake and eat it: free trade with the EU which would involve no barriers or customs controls, new trade deals with the USA, China and India, plus pots of money left over for the NHS. Understandably many fell for it, although it was just part of his legacy of lies designed to propel him to the premiership.
Unsurprisingly two of the recent beneficiaries from the discredited Johnson honours list, the newly-knighted Simon Clarke and Jacob Rees-Mogg, have both come out in condemnation of the ‘extraordinary’ conclusions of the Parliamentary report. Others will doubtless follow – and this is when Rishi should remember Hercules.
The Conservative hierarchy still contains people who would fit comfortably within uncleansed stables: Rishi should be ruthless in getting rid of the lot of them. Like the many-headed Hydra monster, slaying one gives rise to another: Rishi has to be ruthless, not just in order to assert his authority but to be able to govern the country. When Prime Minister Boris found that 21 moderate MPs had dared to put the interests of the country ahead of those of the PM he withdrew the Conservative whip from all of them. Rishi has the power to do the same – if he dared to exercise it.
Critics may claim this would start a Tory civil war. But war has already started. His task is to bring it to an end.
Rishi should also remember the noble intentions of Theresa May, who thought to appease and even muzzle Boris by appointing him as Foreign Secretary – a disastrous move for which he was supremely unsuited, which simply gave him a high-profile platform to pursue his own agenda, and ultimately destroyed her own Premiership.
The hard-right extremists who see nothing but good in Boris Johnson are numerically becoming fewer – but the fewer there are the louder their voices become. It is time to shut them up.
Meanwhile, although Boris has been penalised justly the whole country is still being penalised unjustly having been conned into a Brexit deal which put the interests of the country last. Brexit has been a disaster, economically and politically – and also permanently unless the PM and/or Opposition parties do their duty to the country and start to unpick it. They should stop passively accepting the referendum result as an inviolate verdict of the people and call it out for the fraud that it was.
In conclusion, this “Partygate” report is no longer about Boris Johnson. It is about Rishi Sunak. Will he show some backbone? Does he indeed have a backbone to show?
Another classical phrase comes to mind: Carpe Diem. Seize the day!