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LONDON — Blame the unseasonably hot weather.
It’s not unusual for Westminster to go a wee bit berserk when the British summertime finally arrives — but even a record-breaking heatwave can’t explain the jaw-dropping, mind-boggling, and frankly surreal nature of the race to replace Boris Johnson as U.K. prime minister.
With the Parliamentary stage of the Tory leadership contest finally over, and remaining candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss heading off around the country to try to woo the party grassroots, POLITICO walks you through the dizzying highs thus far of a glorious contest that now has a mere 4,567,575 days left to run.
Random MP throws his hat into the ring, picks it back up
Forget your vast experience running the U.K. economy, sanctioning Vladimir Putin, or landing big trade deals with far-off nations. Rehman Chishti waltzed into the contest with no such baggage. The little-known Gillingham and Rainham MP had been a junior Foreign Office minister for all of two days before deciding he now had what it took to seize the most powerful office in the land.
Not for Chishti were the slick PR tricks of the Westminster elite. He instead launched with a self-shot video made in his garden, and a photo of a 2011 New Statesman magazine cover that briefly mentions him.
Despite high expectations Chishti dropped out days later after failing to secure a single backer, but made clear he’s got no regrets. A true inspiration to us all.
A woman faints mid-speech … and Nadhim Zahawi just carries on regardless
Nothing says “ready to lead” like boldly pressing ahead with a speech about tax policy while a woman in the audience passes out with a loud thud.
And it takes a real man to, in the words of the Daily Express, “continue as if nothing had happened,” while others in attendance worry themselves with trivial matters like “is anyone else about to collapse”, “is it perhaps too hot in here?”, and “guys, is she still alive?”
Saj sweats the small stuff
Speaking of the heat, early Tory hopeful Sajid Javid — fresh from triggering the end of Boris Johnson’s time in office — made it clear he hadn’t entered the race with “a ready-made logo or slick video,” unlike some of his fancy-pants rivals who had done daft things like “prepared” and “chosen a launch venue not on the planet Mercury.”
Instead, The Saj came armed with nothing more than a winning smile and an emergency stack of tissue paper, which he used to mop his extremely sweaty head as he fended off press questions about tax havens in the sweltering Westminster heat.
Truss gets lost at her own campaign launch
Liz Truss’s campaign hasn’t been scared of admitting that Britain’s headed in the wrong direction.
And in a powerful piece of performance art sadly lost on most journalists in the room, Truss closed out her own campaign launch by literally acting out this sense of profound national drift.
Masterfully playing the role of a clueless politician, Truss weaved a complex visual tale in which a serving Cabinet minister struggled to find a simple exit door.
Alas, this powerful metaphor was wasted on those present. The more lowbrow commentators suggested Truss basically just couldn’t find her way out of her own campaign room … Perish the thought.
Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Corbyn’s long lost brother
Few things scream ‘rabid Marxist’ like a privately-educated, Brexit-backing zillionaire who pitches himself as the true heir to Margaret Thatcher.
Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of the Conservative leadership race, in which Rishi Sunak — who supported Britain leaving the EU before it was cool, and has given speech after speech talking up his small-state bona fides — found himself painted as a “socialist” by former Cabinet colleagues, right-leaning newspapers and goodness knows who else.
You may think it’s a sign that the Tory center of gravity has shifted somewhat when a former hedge fund boss in a £3,500 suit and £400 sneakers is suspected of fomenting a proletarian revolution from his Peloton. We couldn’t possibly comment.
Wrong time, wrong place, for a mass debate
Look, we get it: a televised leadership debate probably sounded like a good idea, especially after a few pints. Tease out the policy differences, open yourselves up to public scrutiny, get a few attacks in on Labour while you’re at it. What could go wrong?
Instead, viewers were treated to the surreal sight of a party that’s been in government for 12 years raging at the appalling state of the economy, debating whether their current leader is an out-and-out liar, and revealing how they’d secretly hated half their own policies all along.
“Why should the public trust us?” asked wannabe PM Kemi Badenoch on actual live television, in a line the opposition Labour Party has already gleefully clipped up for social media. “We haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory.”
Indeed they had not. The format was such a success that by the time the third debate came around, all the leading candidates had pulled out.
A contest so dirty Britain’s top official had to launch an inquiry
All leadership contests get a little fraught at times. But you know it’s serious when the U.K.’s top civil servant has to get involved to break up the fight.
Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, will be spending another jolly weekend playing political whack-a-mole after confidential government discussions detailing wannabe PM Penny Mordaunt’s position on gender self-identification mysteriously found their way into the public domain. Mordaunt described the revelations as “smears” about her time in office.
Confirming the inquiry, Case warned rival campaigns it is “paramount that public resources are not used to support leadership campaigns.”
That will have come as some relief to Team Mordaunt, who in no way considered using public resources to support a leadership campaign.
Everyone else calls each other ‘woke’ the whole time
I’m woke, you’re woke, we’re all woke.
The prime ministerial hopefuls have had a merry old time trying to prove that their fellow right-wingers are actually secret millennial snowflakes, keen to cancel the entire Conservative Party for using the wrong pronouns.
Badenoch had the most fun, replacing gender neutral toilets at her campaign launch venue with hastily-scribbled “men” and “ladies” signs, while Mordaunt raised the bar for British political discourse by telling activists and journalists: “I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said that every prime minister needs a willy. A woman like me doesn’t have one.”
Truly enlightening stuff, as we await our new leader’s anointment.
Penny Mordaunt’s boss calls her lazy on the radio
Trade Secretary Anne Marie-Travelyan decided to try something new for this year’s round of ministerial performance reviews: announcing the failings of her own deputy Penny Mordaunt live on national radio.
“There have been a number of times when she hasn’t been available, which would have been useful,” Trevelyan — who’s backing rival contender Liz Truss — pointedly told LBC, when pressed on Mordaunt’s attitude to the job. “Other ministers have picked up the pieces.”
That prompted another great use of limited parliamentary time Thursday, when Mordaunt — with Trevelyan looking on just a few seats away — told the House of Commons with deep sarcasm that she was “sort of amazed to find myself here this morning, given my reported work ethic.”
Only six more weeks of blanking each other in the elevator to go.
Penny plans a new national theme song
Campaign on the rocks? Time to roll out the big guns.
Fighting to stay in the race, Mordaunt turned to a crowd-pleasing policy idea guaranteed to salve Brits’ economic woes and tamp down resurgent calls for Scotland to become an independent country: a new national ‘theme song’. Nope, us neither.
“I think it’s those sorts of things that get people thinking, get people excited, get people thinking about what it is that we are,” she explained.
Just one snag: Britain already has a great national theme song. Mordaunt was out of the race a few hours later.
And finally… the Margaret Thatcher cosplay
Because this, of course, is just a very normal and usual thing to do. Roll on the summer!