THE candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party seem mainly to have spent the week in a downward auction of uncosted tax-slashing. But on one thing they all agree. They are all right behind the idea of restoring integrity, decency, and ethics to British politics.
Or so they say. At the same time, we hear that Tory leadership campaign teams are drawing up dirty dossiers of compromising allegations about the extramarital affairs, tax dodges, illicit drugs, and prostitutes of rival candidates. Add that to the fact that most of the candidates previously colluded with Boris Johnson in his serial law-breaking and lying — until it looked like their seats were at real risk — and you might be excused for being cynical about these protestations of probity.
Sajid Javid, who pulled out of the contest just before the first round closed, is one of the few senior Conservatives who has not just proclaimed integrity but also demonstrated it. He resigned as Chancellor on a point of principle when 10 Downing Street wanted to sack his personal advisers. And it was he who triggered the tumbling ministerial dominoes that led to the end of the Johnson regime. Rishi Sunak, who had clearly been plotting to resign, waited until Mr Javid went before he swiftly followed, the action perhaps of a follower rather than a leader.
The timing of Mr Javid’s resignation, he told MPs, was prompted by a sermon at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in which the Revd Les Isaac, the founder of Street Pastors, spoke about the responsibility that came with leadership — to serve the interests of others above your own, and to seek the common good.
“Listening to him talking about the importance of integrity in public life . . . I made up my mind. I went straight back to my office and drafted the resignation letter,” he told Sophie Raworth in a BBC interview. It is a political cliché that if you can fake sincerity you’ve got it made. But, in both the Commons and on television, Mr Javid exuded an authenticity that was convincing, not least because it was backed by his previous actions.
It is doubly ironic, therefore, that Mr Javid was forced to pull out of the leadership race for lack of support. He got just 12 of the 20 votes that he needed to go forward. As for the rest of the candidates, the contest is certainly revealing that Mr Johnson was not alone in the Tory party as a repository of unattractive values, policies, and personality traits. But it is worth emphasising to candidates that integrity is revealed in actions, not words.
It may well be, of course, that the electorate of ageing white affluent folk who make up the membership of the Conservative Party — and in whose unrepresentative hands the final choice of our next PM resides — may prefer someone totally untainted by association with the outgoing regime. But we are told that many of them still harbour the feeling that, as one of them put it, “Now that I’ve seen the field, I think I’d rather have Boris back.”
That Parliamentary Breakfast ended with a prayer: “Lord, please do something amazing in our nation.” We can all say Amen to that.
Read more on this story in our Television column