Much is unknown about the parliament the good people of the United Kingdom are thinking about electing in the spare moments between Christmas shopping and Christmas parties. But we know this: it will be a parliament dominated by fear, fanaticism and fixers.
David Gauke, who as recently as July was a minister in a Conservative government, now urges voters to abandon the Tories. At its worst, the next parliamentary Conservative party “will resemble Trump’s Republican party”, he tells me. A senior Labour politician, too nervous to speak on the record, tells me his colleagues were stunned by the “unprecedented brutality” Corbyn deployed to rig the party’s democratic system and deliver him a claque of loyalists to take back to Westminster.
The fixers have indeed been busiest on the Labour side, but the Tories have done their bit. Rupert Harrison, a former aide to the pro-European George Osborne, looked certain to win the Conservative nomination for the safe seat of Devizes. So confident was the association’s chairman, Brigadier Peter Sharpe, he went on holiday with his wife, Gill. Big mistake. While they were away, Conservative HQ forced out Harrison and left the path clear for Danny Kruger, a Johnson aide, whose parents blessed him with the divine right to rule the British when they sent him to Eton.
Gill Sharpe said the brigadier was “livid”. Johnson’s stitch-up “undermines the role of the local association” and showed “his scant regard for the requirements of a local MP”. She should try Labour. Its leaders have always wanted to shepherd supporters into safe seats, usually by offering the local party a Hobson’s choice between no-hopers and their favoured candidate. But I can find only two occasions between 1994 and 2010 when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown imposed candidates on Labour-held constituencies: Alan Johnson in Hull and Chris Leslie in Nottingham
In 2017, central panels imposed candidates in seats without a Labour MP, which is why Labour ended up with deadbeats such as Jared O’Mara and Fiona Onasanya. But the 2017 election was a shock and Labour had the excuse that constituencies had not chosen candidates. Everyone knew there was an election coming in 2019. Corbyn said he was ready for it. And he was in his way.
Despite preaching so piously about giving power to party members, Corbyn and the unions forced candidates on 10 safe seats: Luton North, Derby North, Jarrow, Birmingham Hall Green, West Bromwich West, West Bromwich East, Leicester East, Warrington North, Liverpool Riverside and Bassetlaw.
The press has focused on the viciousness of the worst of them: Kate Osborne in Jarrow posted a mocked-up image of Theresa May cowering before a gunman. Many in Labour are more struck by their mediocrity. Once their leaders wanted to promote talented men and women they could see sitting on the frontbench, as Johnson and Leslie did. In 2019, however, members of the far left who might grow into formidable politicians, Laura Parker of Momentum, for instance, or Simon Fletcher, who was chief of staff for both Corbyn and Ken Livingstone, got nowhere.
Instead, Corbyn and Len McCluskey have promoted jobsworths. In Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire, the far left used filthy allegations that Sally Gimson was an abusive monster to remove the local party’s favoured candidate, a process described by her lawyers as “an utter sham conducted with no concern for the truth or fairness”. They then imposed one Keir Morrison, who said he deserved to be chosen because he was the “ONLY candidate endorsed by @unitetheunion”, as if being a McCluskey hanger-on were a recommendation.
The approved candidates look as if they will never question dogma and will help maintain a leftwing bloc within the party for a generation. If Labour were to reach power with Scottish National party support, moderate Labour MPs are already talking about how they can stop Nicola Sturgeon, Corbyn and his batch of new MPs breaking up the union with Scotland.
If the Conservatives win, the fanaticism and fear among Tory MPs will matter more. The great lie of this election – one of the great lies of the election – is that Johnson can take us out of the EU and Brexit will be over. A new crisis will be upon us almost at once. Johnson will have until the end of June to decide whether to extend the transitional arrangements that keep us in the single market and customs union. If he does, he will have time to negotiate a new trade deal, but will infuriate the Tory right. If he makes peace with the right, he risks a no-deal Brexit.
We have become so used to Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Ken Clarke, Oliver Letwin and other Conservatives working to protect the country, it will be a shock to realise on 13 December that they’ve gone. In their place will be Brexit zealots. A study by the Times of 51 seats where the MP has left politics or defected found that at least 16 Remainers will be replaced by Tories who backed Leave. Those who are not fanatical are fearful.
The last parliament was marked by Conservative associations turning on MPs who defended the national interest. New Tory MPs will come from more fervently pro-Brexit areas as the geography of the party’s base changes. It’s reasonable to predict the membership will be even keener to protect the purity of the Brexit revolution.
The last parliament also saw Johnson destroying the careers of Tory rebels, as he showed the brutality that has always lived behind the smirk. With their natural leaders gone, it is reasonable to predict that potentially rebellious Tory MPs will fear him too.
But what do you expect when a formerly great country finds that out of all its 66 million citizens it must choose a prime minister from a shortlist of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn? Good government? Adequate government? Any kind of government worthy of the name?
• Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist