What’s wrong with the British Conservatives?

I don’t get this FT story:

Sunak and Truss are both struggling to establish their credentials with a party membership that still appears to be lamenting the resignation of Boris Johnson earlier this month.

A Mail on Sunday/Deltapoll survey found that 33 per cent of members thought Johnson would be the best prime minister, compared with 26 per cent for Truss and 24 for Sunak.

Johnson will step down as prime minister after a new Tory leader is announced on September 5.

His “hasta la vista” farewell to the House of Commons last week, raised hopes among his supporters that he might make a comeback at some point in the future.

How is it possible that a disgraced and eminently unqualified politician is the single most popular choice for leader of the Conservative movement? And why are they “lamenting” his ouster? Can’t they let go of the past? And how is it possible that this person could be contemplating a comeback after being ousted from office? What is wrong with the British Conservatives?

PS. According to wikipedia:

kakistocracy (/kækɪˈstɒkrəsi//kækɪsˈtɒ-/) is a government run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.



31 Responses to “What’s wrong with the British Conservatives?”

  1. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    24. July 2022 at 10:20

    Nothing about it seems impossible. It was the Conservatives who selected him as Prime Minister in the first place even if you think he’s unqualified. Many of them presumably haven’t changed their minds. Of course, the UK has more of a tradition of people leaving and then returning to the office. We’ve only got Grover Cleveland’s non-consecutive terms, whereas no less a seminal figure than Winston Churchill lost and later regained the position.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. July 2022 at 10:24

    Yes, well I was just joking around.

  3. Gravatar of Ben Ben
    24. July 2022 at 11:08

    He had a personality and could connect with people. Something exceptionally rare for British politicians.

  4. Gravatar of JVM JVM
    24. July 2022 at 11:25

    I think you’re underestimating Boris. He’s hypocritical and opportunistic, to be sure, but he’s not the British Trump.

  5. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    24. July 2022 at 11:53

    Has it always been the case that almost every politician, especially every conservative one, has been accused of incompetence?

    I first noticed it with Reagan, but I’m sure it started before that. I bet it was already a big deal in the ancient Greek and Roman republics. At least back then you still risked your honor and your own head when you made such statements. So there wasn’t that inflation that we see today.

    It really has become a bad habit of political commentary. And of course every politician is supposedly worse than the one before, who is supposed to have been already incompetent to the max.

    Personally, I judge each politician on his or her own merits. Every politician is ambivalent with advantages and disadvantages. In Johnson’s case, I honestly see few disadvantages. What did he do that was so bad? Can Scott name a specific outrageous point without resorting to Google? I hardly doubt it.

    Personally, I’ll never forget Johnson for being the first politician to visit the battered, badly injured Kiev by train when all the other Western politicians were still cowardly hiding in their closets. Biden has even managed to avoid being in Ukraine until today.

  6. Gravatar of Sarah Sarah
    24. July 2022 at 21:06

    — A kakistocracy (/kækɪˈstɒkrəsi/, /kækɪsˈtɒ-/) is a government run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.

    This sounds a lot like Biden, Pelosi, AOC, and most of the democrat party.

    The reason Boris is loved is because he has this wonderful thing called a personality. He’s an upbeat, imperfect genius, with lovable good-natured traits. He’s not a boring, monotone, crazed demagogue, who threatens violence, glorifies smoking crack, buys hookers, imposes word use, changes the definition of words to suit his totalitarian needs, or calls his political opposition Hitler.

    Just today, Noam Chomsky took aim at radicals like Sumner. He said: “Take the United States today. It is living under a kind of totalitarian culture which has never existed in my lifetime, and is much worse in many ways than the Soviet Union before Gorbachev…You want to find out what the adversary is saying, you can maybe tune into Indian state telivision and find it out, or you can read it on Al Jazeera…but the United States has imposed constraints on freedom of access to information which [is] astonishing..”

    He is referring to the fact that the people in the U.S. are banned from accessing certain media sources: namely but not limited too, RU sources.

    Additionally, Glenn Greenwald takes aim at Sumner’s crowd. “Defending free speech used to be a central virtue of the left before it became radicalized by its authoritarian wing”.

    Like Dershowitz, and other liberty loving academics, Chomsky wonders whether spending millions of tax money to pay for politically motivated hearings, in which curated witnesses and panel members express their opinion, without once permitting the accused to defend themselves, is actually good for American discourse. Of course, this concept of public defense is lost amongst the more radicals like Sumner, who are all too ready to “crush” their opponents with a “big stick”.

    Much to the chagrin of Sumner: Desantis, Trump, and Boris are populists whose policies resonate with the vast majority.

    And unless you kill or arrest your political opposition, then all of the farmers and blue collar workers you hate, in all American states, will come out and vote for the people’s champion. Political hitjobs, publicly broadcasted by a panel of idiots, will not curry favor amongst the moderates. They see through the charade.

  7. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    24. July 2022 at 21:26

    Boris opposes the WEF. He opposes big government. It doesn’t surprised me that he was viciously attacked by left wing media who favors both.

    “One of the largest intelligence services in the world, if not the largest, told me that my stance on Russia was unacceptable and that if I do not change [it] and do not abandon the policy that I am pursuing … then I will not be a member of the government and they will do absolutely everything to smear me,” Vulin told media outlet Pink.” — Minister Aleksandar Vulin (Serbia).

    Of course, he was referring to the CIA. Sadly, this is American totalitarianism on the world stage. It won’t lead to a one world NATO. It will lead to the annihilation of our species.

  8. Gravatar of Leon Leon
    25. July 2022 at 01:03

    It’s worth remembering that the election between Truss and Sunak is among party members. These are mostly people who have paid a subscription to join the party (so are pretty committed to the party) but may not be sufficiently actively involved and committed to aware of ‘electability’ issues in the way that a professional politician would be. Hence they’re a particularly extreme bunch; they’re going to have more extreme views than registered republicans in the US (who haven’t paid for their registered status) or British politicians (who moderate their public pronouncements in order not to seem too crazy to swing voters)

    Having said that, what is odd is how a bunch of people who have been conservative party members for years have embraced a leader who epitomises the financial irresponsibility, soft on law and order, and generally incompetent approach that tory members stereotypically accuse Labour of delivering. Unlike with Corbyn in the labour party there’s been no bounce of Johnson supporters joining the party.

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. July 2022 at 08:48

    JVM, You said:

    “I think you’re underestimating Boris. He’s hypocritical and opportunistic, to be sure, but he’s not the British Trump.”

    No I’m not underestimating him, And I’ve always said he’s light years better than Trump. All politicians are.

    BTW, he’s also corrupt.

    Christian, You said “In Johnson’s case, I honestly see few disadvantages.”

    Sure, if all you care about is his view on Ukraine and pay no attention to all the sleaze, then he’s fine.

  10. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    25. July 2022 at 18:35

    Boris Johnson is a poser. He pretends to be a Trump-like populist, because he’ll do anything to advance his career, including adopting white nationalist rhetoric and lying to promote Brexit, which he knew didn’t make sense economically. He lied constantly, like Trump. I think he secretly respects neoliberalism more than he’ll let on, along with the liberal world order.

    So, there’s that old question: Is a person worse who knows better and acts like Trump, or one who truly is stupid, ignorant, and extremely nasty, like Marjorie Taylor Greene?

  11. Gravatar of Grant Gould Grant Gould
    26. July 2022 at 02:28

    A simple model might be that the party dislikes sleaze more than the voters do (because it tarnishes the whole party), and the voters like bluster more than the party does (because the political class in Britain is fairly well educated).

    So a blustery sleazebag can rest easy that although the party may force him out today (via cabinet chaos), the voters can call him back tomorrow (via actual voting) and so he need only wait out the anti-sleaze spasm of the elites.

    The great thing about this model is that no part of it need relate to the real world or exoteric events in any way whatsoever.
    Reality exists only insofar as it can be the object of sleaze and bluster; any high-order reality terms will cancel out in the equations.

  12. Gravatar of J J
    26. July 2022 at 04:30

    well, he was on the TV, so he’s recognizable by the average voter way more than either of the candidates; it will be harder to get the votes to get reelected when the tory leader is someone people don’t recognize, which is the main concern of MPs

  13. Gravatar of mai_neh mai_neh
    26. July 2022 at 04:52

    Those of us with above-average IQs find it difficult to understand why people choose the leaders they do in democracies.

    We tend to associate only with other above-average IQ folks in our workplaces, households, and friendships. So we have no idea what the 50% with below-average IQs are thinking about the world.

    For each person with an IQ of 120 there’s another person with an IQ of 80. But the meritocracy has sorted us into homogeneous IQ bands.

  14. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    26. July 2022 at 07:32

    Sure, if all you care about is his view on Ukraine and pay no attention to all the sleaze, then he’s fine.

    Because I focus on what is really essential. I don’t give a damn about his other life. He can have as many covid parties and whatever as he wants to, I don’t care. You can’t get more specific than “sleaze” without Google. You are starting to sound like a priest on this one.

  15. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    26. July 2022 at 08:08

    next you’ll tell me the same people who perpetrated hoaxes in an attempted coup at the highest levels of security and intelligence services not only faced no consequence but are now investigating the subject of their coup as a private citizen to unmitigated applause from the enlightened

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2022 at 09:13

    Everyone, I’d be careful with, “These are the sorts of politicians you’d expect average people to support” arguments, given that Johnson and Trump are both very unusual politicians.

    Christian, I’ll say this, you’re not quite as delusional as TallDave. I’ll give you that.

  17. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    26. July 2022 at 09:21

    Prof. Sumner,
    you used to call yourself a conservative. Do you still claim that today ?

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2022 at 09:27

    Jose, I’ve always viewed myself as a libertarian. I think you are referring to the fact that I viewed people like Reagan as the lesser of evils, so I was regarded by others as a conservative. Now I see Biden as the lesser of evils.

    The conservative movement has become increasing dominated by authoritarian nationalists, all over the world. In the developed world, the changeover began in Italy, and has advanced the furthest in Italy.


  19. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    26. July 2022 at 09:54

    I focus on facts, not words. To me, Biden has been much more authoritarian than his predecessor, despite the discourse.

    Also, I believe that the rejection of globalism by large portions of the public is a phenomenon that cannot be superficially tagged as “far right” turn (with all the weight of the historical context of that term). The neoliberal order has failed to deliver on its promises, and those pointing out this fact cannot just be dismissed as radicals.

  20. Gravatar of TallDave TallDave
    26. July 2022 at 16:22

    lol sure Scott, we all just imagined Grassley’s press conference about the FBI whistleblower that today revealed the same openly Trump-hating FBI analyst who helped push the Alfa Bank hoax (with the help of the CIA’s general counsel) also buried Hunter Biden’s laptop as “Russian disinformation”

    and Strzok’s wife isn’t even now investigating Trump’s social media company

    no, no, it’s all delusions

    lol banana republic indeed

  21. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    26. July 2022 at 20:56

    Yes, it’s terrible, but to see how much , let’s look at the US.

    Joe Biden has a historically low approval rating. Most democrats don’t want him to run again. And when you poll democrats about their favorite 2024 candidate, they pick… Joe Biden, because everyone else polls worse.

    Then we look at Republicans. Trump is a lying, seditious cheat so will happily throw the republic away. He is loathed by democrats and independents, who turn out in droves against him. He makes Boris look good. But when you poll Republicans for their favorite 2024 candidate, Trump wins again.

    In this era of enthusiasm, being terrible doesn’t matter as long as you have more followers than the opponent. Nobody has good favorability anymore the moment they spend any time in power: It’s only easy to like people when they are a mystery box. But even then, different people don’t agree on their mystery box at all.

    It’s not just the Brits. Politics today are cursed.

  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. July 2022 at 08:57

    Jose, You said:

    “The neoliberal order has failed to deliver on its promises,”

    Both time series and cross sectional evidence suggests exactly the opposite. The more neoliberal countries have done much better than the less neoliberal countries, and as the world has moved to nationalism the world economy has begun to struggle. The UK is a case in point.

    TallDave, Hunter Biden’s laptop? Get a life.

    Bob, You said:

    “It’s not just the Brits. Politics today are cursed.”



  23. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    27. July 2022 at 09:38

    I meant: in the central economies the neo liberal order has failed to deliver significant increases in the MEDIAN per capita gdp growth.

  24. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    27. July 2022 at 09:52


  25. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    27. July 2022 at 13:31

    There is no alternative to neoliberalism.

  26. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    27. July 2022 at 13:35

    It is breathtaking how quickly most conservatives abandoned free markets and fair elections. They came to the conclusion that they can’t turn the tide of the liberal social order in the free markets, and can’t win in fair national elections either, so they now seek to setup an authoritarian state to establish rule by their extremist minority.

  27. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    27. July 2022 at 13:47

    If I am not mistaken the first reform Macron sponsored when first elected in France was an electoral reform, that reduced the representation of districts and increase the broad prportional influence, which, for those familiar em brazilian politics, is a system that allows for a much worse representation. This kind of reform increases the distance between voters and representatives. So much for defense of democracy on the center and center left …

  28. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    27. July 2022 at 15:10

    Your graph is misleading, in the sense that at first glance it looks like median income has not increased. But it has really risen by 30% (!), it just looks like nothing has changed when you index it against something that has risen even more. Index Mount Everest against Olympus Mons and Mount Everest suddenly looks tiny. Good job, you did just that.

    And if you compare two diverging graphs directly, it comes down to the same prior periods. How was it before? Possible, the graphs have always diverged. Did the divergence get bigger or smaller or is it always like this? Could be always like this, or maybe even getting better.


  29. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    27. July 2022 at 15:31

    Also be wary of comparing apples and oranges. We have many more single households today — and a large immigration of impoverished households from Central and South America. And still 30% growth in the median.

  30. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. July 2022 at 10:43

    Jose, You said:

    “I meant: in the central economies the neo liberal order has failed to deliver significant increases in the MEDIAN per capita gdp growth.”

    But surely what matters is the growth rate relative to the alternative (statism). By that criterion it’s been a success.

    Michael, “There is no alternative to neoliberalism.”

    Surely you mean no GOOD alternatives. North Korea is an alternative. So is Venezuela. So is Sri Lanka. So is Cuba.

    Those are extreme cases. But within Europe, Greece is far less neoliberal than Denmark. There are alternatives.

  31. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    28. July 2022 at 21:17


    Yes, there’s no good alternative to neoliberalism, and neoliberalism cannot be fully stomped out of existence. There’s signficant black market activity even in communist countries, as distorted as those market are.

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