Bloody Panico

Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes in the New York Review:

* 2022 will be remembered as the year of two monarchs and three prime ministers, not to mention four chancellors of the exchequer, five education secretaries, and more than thirty resignations from the government.

* When I sent half-ironical congratulations to a don at Lincoln College, Sunak’s Oxford alma mater, on the ascent of their eminent alumnus, he replied, “We’re very proud of Rishi and hope that he lasts at least a year.”

* But what distinguishes the Tories nowadays isn’t marital infidelity or sexual variety so much as sheer squalor. One MP was imprisoned for sexual abuse of minors, one was forced to resign when a woman MP sitting in the chamber of the Commons noticed that he was looking at pornography on his cell phone, and another, Chris Pincher, was seen at a party at the Carlton Club fondling the groins of younger men, to which Johnson initially responded, with his ready wit, “Pincher by name, pincher by nature.” Hancock’s own political career ended when a CCTV camera caught him in a passionate embrace in his ministerial office with a colleague who proved to be also his mistress (transgressing lockdown rules as well as the Seventh Commandment). He has since appeared on a grotesque “reality program” eating the genitals of exotic animals in some distant clime, and he looks more and more like our present-day answer to the Rector of Stiffkey, who was defrocked in the 1930s for devoting excessive pastoral care to chorus girls and ended his days exhibiting himself in a barrel at a circus before, sad to say, he was mauled by a lion.

* While Johnson was mishandling the pandemic he would address the nation on television in his rambling, bumbling manner, which prompted Robert Harris, the political journalist turned novelist, to observe that as we listened to him blathering on with his feeble excuses and totally unconvincing explanations, we all realized what being married to him must be like. And so although Johnson’s fall has been called unexpected, it was surely overdetermined. He always had a transactional relationship with MPs who knew very well that he was a “seedy, treacherous chancer,” in Ferdinand Mount’s phrase, a ruthlessly ambitious, totally unprincipled opportunist who has never believed in anything in his life apart from self-advancement and self-gratification. While they supported him as long as he could win an election, the Tories sensed that he was always a series of accidents waiting to happen.

* The first names of the latest four French finance ministers are Bruno, Michel, Pierre, and François; of their German counterparts, Christian, Olaf, Peter, and Wolfgang; of American secretaries of the Treasury, Janet, Steven, Jack, and Timothy. The four successive chancellors of the exchequer until last October were called Sajid, Rishi, Nadhim, and Kwasi. Bruno Maçães, the Portuguese politician who is now a prolific commentator, has said that there is no other European country where four people with such names could have risen to such an office. Three of the highest offices—the premiership and the two historic secretaryships of state—are now held by people of color: the foreign secretary is James Cleverly, whose mother was from Sierra Leone, and the home secretary is Suella Braverman, whose parents were Indian by way of Mauritius and Kenya.

Veneration of Churchill is a dogma of the Tory Party (with which he had a very checkered relationship over the years) as well as of the American right, although his racism is no secret. He once told a colleague that “the Hindus were a foul race” who deserved to be extirpated, and in 1955, at the last Cabinet meeting over which he presided as prime minister, he said that the Tories should fight the next election on the slogan “Keep England White.” At the Conservative Party Conference the following year, one of the speakers was Captain Charles Waterhouse, a veteran of the Great War, an MP since the 1920s, and a great conference favorite. In his speech he used the phrase “nigger in the woodpile”; added in a stage aside, “Too many of them about anyway”; and brought the house down with raucous laughter—a memory that must make today’s Tories shudder, and not only them.

This was at a time when recently arrived immigrants from the West Indies faced gross discrimination and occasional violence. In a particularly repellent story related in Matthew Engel’s new book The Reign: Life in Elizabeth’s Britain, Carmel Jones arrived in England from Jamaica in 1955. A pious Anglican, like many West Indians, she went to her local parish church, where the vicar told her, “Thank you for coming, but I would be delighted if you didn’t come back. My congregation is uncomfortable in the presence of black people.”

* I’m haunted by the memory of the speech that the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha made to his unfortunate people one January long ago: “This year will be harder than last year. On the other hand, it will be easier than next year.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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