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The Tory Leadership Election – Auction of the Year

June 11, 2019

Didius Julianus, who bought the Roman Empire by auction in CE193

I’ve avoided the BBC’s coverage of the Conservative leadership contest like the plague. If the ten people who wish to become Prime Minister were standing in a contest in which I had a vote – a presidential election perhaps – I might be interested.

But as it is, there’s an evil bastard inside me dying to say that my country’s in a pretty pickle when the task of selecting a new leader falls upon a hundred thousand superannuated reactionaries whose entitlement to vote has been bought by an annual subscription to a party that garnered 9% of the votes in the last democratic election.

I’m aware that there are candidates who are offering all manner of bribes to these people in the form of tax cuts. I’m also aware that the Conservatives seem to have welded their wagon to Brexit, and I strongly suspect that many of their members are not in the slightest concerned about the thousands of jobs leaking away as the result of businesses shutting down their operations in the United Kingdom. At least not unless the value of their pension posts and houses starts to tumble.

I do believe that the BBC is setting a dangerous precedent by televising the leadership hustings, thereby providing a platform for one political party which is not available for others – including those with larger support in the European Elections – that are not holding leadership contests. As it happens, one party, the Liberal Democrats, who easily out-polled the Conservatives, are also holding a leadership election. Dare we expect that the BBC will give equal airtime to the mercifully small number of candidates in that contest?

For all but the chosen candidate in the Conservative race, the outcome will most likely be to raise their profile within the party and, thanks to the BBC, the nation. This will give them the status of so-called “big beasts”, whose voices will count more and whose chances of plum ministerial appointments under the next leader will be enhanced. A good career move then.

As for the party membership, they remind me of members of a golf club who have been approached by a developer to sell their land for housing. Although they have paid an annual subscription for the privilege of playing golf, now they have the additional benefit of a big pay-off for their share of the proceeds.

I also think of the events of 193CE, when the Roman praetorian guard killed Pertinax, the emperor they were sworn to protect, and auctioned his job to Didius Julianus, a wealthy senator. Nine weeks later, when a number of generals disagreed with the selection and marched on Rome, the new emperor’s supporters abandoned him and he was killed by a member of the same praetorian guard.

In the first case unexpected financial gain. In the second, financial gain followed by the swift downfall of the source of wealth.

I then think about football agents who take a huge cut from the transfer fees of the players they represent, only to induce disaffection in the same players, leading to further transfers and further pieces of the action.

It would be the height of cynicism to suggest that members of the governing party would be influenced by goodies on offer that might incentivise them to churn their leadership, wouldn’t it? Just as the idea that the electorate in general can be influenced by promises of financial gain is equally outrageous.

Another historical event comes to mind. In April 1945 Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering plotted to succeed Hitler as leader of the doomed Nazi state. Neither succeeded, and both died by their own hand. I don’t wish such a fate on the twelve hopefuls who wish to become prime minister. But I do get a sense that the person who succeeds would be drinking from a poisoned chalice. Just as Himmler tried to turn the western allies against the Soviet Union, the future of the Conservative Party now seems to rest on exploiting the electorate’s fear of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn.

And if Jeremy Hunt’s assertion that without Brexit, his party is finished, is correct, he and his fellow leadership candidates are still taking a colossal gamble that the nation will thank them for taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

I have no time for this hapless bunch of wannabes. If I was a Conservative member, I would probably vote for Rory Stewart. Anyone who has governed a province in post-war Iraq is probably as well qualified as anyone to deal with the chaos that is likely to follow Brexit. And anyone who has shared an opium pipe with a wedding party full of Iranian notables should at least be capable of understanding the euphoric dreams of a party seeing visions of sunlit uplands while heading for skid row.

No doubt the faithful will get the leader they deserve. As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait for our chance to send the chancers scurrying off in search of newspaper editorships, non-executive directorships and consultancy gigs, assuming there’s still anyone out there who is mad enough to employ them.

The story of Didius Julianus features at the end of a Hollywood Roman epic called The Fall of the Roman Empire. In it, the narrator cites the auctioning of the throne to the highest bidder as the ultimate act of political decadence, and a marker for the inevitable end of an era. I guess we’re at that stage today, and the highest bidder in this year’s auction appears to be one Boris Johnson, the man who sold us the lie that the European Union cares about the shape of our bananas. The difference is that he’s using our money for his bid rather than his own.

He and his buddy Donald Trump are worthy successors to Didius, though clearly more expert at self-preservation. We’re in for an interesting time, God help us.

From → History, Politics, UK

  1. debby moge permalink

    the upslope is fairly flat. the downslope is steep. I’m in the U.S. hang on, it’s going to be a fast ride. sorry you had to join in on it.

    • Thanks! It’s been a pretty rapid ride since 2106. Getting steeper now… S

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