As controversial Rishi Sunak becomes Prime Minister (PM), The Eye’s political writer The Rebel looks at dismal political records, after Liz Truss secures the prize as the shortest ever PM, and a contentious former member of the Welsh assembly as well as its parliament, wins just 23 votes in an election!
The Rebel is a leading political figure who will always give the insider’s view about what is happening in the corridors of power at Westminster and Cardiff Bay.
There is always an element of glee for political animals like me in watching careers unravel.
You look on with fascination as a slow-motion car crash takes place before your eyes, oblivious to the fact that this might offer a terrible vision of what can happen in the United Kingdom (UK), to other states around the world.
For example the spectacle of what has just taken place in Westminster makes me laugh as well as cry.
Liz Truss now takes her place as the shortest-serving Prime Minister in UK history, a title previously claimed by George Canning, who died in 1827 after only five months in office.
They are both well ahead of their nearest rival, Alec Douglas-Home (Ms Truss especially!), who lasted a year and a day before losing the 1964 election.
Then comes Anthony Eden at one year 279 days, and Gordon Brown at two years, 318 days.
Yet ANOTHER selection (among Tories) has just taken place – creating the FIFTH Prime Minister in the last SIX years, and comparisons are being made with Italy!
Boris Johnson was nicknamed ‘Borisconi’ (after that joker Silvio Berlusconi, who was kicked out of office in 2011), and he was thought to be on the way back until he pulled out of the leadership race.
Mr Johnson was at one point the main rival to Rishi Sunak, before today.
He claimed he had the endorsement of 102 MPs, but critics have said this is nonsense, and Mr Johnson declared about his abandoned leadership bid, perhaps disingenuously: “I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do”.
With Mr Johnson’s duplicitous background, it appears bizarre that he was even being touted for a comeback, so let us remind ourselves of just one of the controversies (in which our new Prime Minister, Mr Sunak, was also involved) – ‘Partygate’.
This was a political scandal about parties and other gatherings of the UK Government and Conservative party staff held during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, when public health restrictions prohibited most get-togethers.
While several lockdowns were in place, celebrations took place at 10 Downing Street, its garden, and other government buildings, and the media focused on the story in a big way.
In late January 2022, twelve parties came under investigation by the Metropolitan Police (MP), including at least three attended by Mr Johnson.
The police issued 126 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) to 83 individuals whom officers found had committed offences under COVID-19 regulations, including one each to Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie, as well as Mr Sunak, who all apologised and paid the penalties.
Another (Cabinet Office) inquiry was also launched (although delayed by the police investigation), undertaken by civil servant Sue Gray, and it described how there had been multiple events, including excessive drinking with a lack of respect shown to cleaning and security staff.
She concluded that senior political and civil service leadership “must bear responsibility for this culture”.
Another rival of Mr Sunak’s in this peculiar competition (an early favourite to win in the last race), was former magician’s assistant, and Royal Navy Reservist, Penny Mordaunt, who pulled out even before the deadline for showing contenders had the necessary 100 supporting MPs now (she presumably KNEW she didn’t have them!)
It seems right to examine her background a bit as well.
Ms Mordaunt won the Portsmouth North constituency from Labour in 2010, and one of her first claims to fame was an appearance on Tom Daley’s reality TV diving show Splash! in 2014, but she was told by judges that she had the “elegance and drive of a paving slab”, and she was criticised for not focusing on her day job.
During her ill-fated first campaign, she got mixed up between ‘fiscal’ and ‘monetary’ policy, and also raised eyebrows for having earlier made a House of Commons speech in which she squeezed in repeated references to a rude word during a speech about poultry welfare – said to be part of a military bet – leading to accusations of “trivialising parliament”.
As with all Tories, Ms Mordaunt will bemoan the fact that the party are now about 30 points behind Labour, yet as the next General Election doesn’t HAVE to be held until January 2025, it isn’t impossible that they may win it, if they put someone in charge who the voters actually like!
But there is a Welsh dimension, too, to this obsessive compulsion of mine.
The fate of Ms Truss was sealed by backbench Conservative MPs who are known collectively, as the 1922 Committee.
Exactly one hundred years ago they had also booted out the Welsh-speaking Caernarfon MP (Caernarvon Borough) and Prime Minister Lloyd George (the Liberals were then in coalition with the Conservatives).
History repeats itself!
On the very morning Ms Truss took that uncoveted place of being the shortest Prime Minister ever by resigning (and recording in the process the number of days in office that Brian Clough had been in charge of Leeds United), it had also emerged that the headline-grabbing former member of the Welsh assembly and parliament, Nick Ramsay, had the previous day won only 23 votes (just 3.5 percent) in a Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) by-election for the Devauden ward.
Mr Ramsay (whose time as a frontline politician was marked by enormous controversies) thereby takes his place as surely the most unpopular one-time member of the assembly/parliament (he was in the Welsh Conservative (WC) group originally, then an Independent from 2007 to 2021, during which time the National Assembly for Wales (NAW) became the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru [WP/SC]), but he stood for MCC as a Welsh Liberal Democrat [WLD]).
In May he had, as well, failed to be elected to MCC for the Raglan ward.
These appalling results for Mr Ramsay, may have had something to do with the fact that he was caught up in a number of alcohol-related issues, including one where he was accused of being seen drinking on WP/SC premises during a period when this was not legal for the public, due to those coronavirus/Covid-19 restrictions I mentioned.
But this followed other news about him, where drink had also been central.
In 2011, while he was a contender for the leadership of the WC, Mr Ramsay had to apologise after being barred from a pub following a charity quiz in aid of ‘Help for Heroes’.
The landlord said that he resigned his membership of the WC party over the issue, and that “Nick Ramsay heckled the quizmaster repeatedly, telling him that his questions were rubbish. He challenged the quizmaster, a local antiques dealer, to bid £100 for a rugby jersey in an auction we held on the same evening for the charity. He was quite rude and objectionable and his comments didn’t go down well”.
In 2012, Mr Ramsay was criticised for missing a committee session, which had come after drinking in a leaving party for a Welsh Labour (WL) member of staff at a Cardiff Bay pub.
In 2014 he was accused of having been drunk during a debate in the WP/SC. The Presiding Officer (PO) had to launch an investigation after she received a complaint alleging that a Tory member appeared “drunk” and made “slurred, incoherent and insolent” contributions to a debate on mental health.
Last year Mr Ramsay fell out with his local party in Monmouth, and members of Monmouth Conservative Association (MCA) voted to deselect him, choosing instead Peter Fox.
Meanwhile, two judges ordered Mr Ramsay to pay more than £40,000 to the association for legal costs incurred after he said he would challenge the deselection at the High Court, dropping the case after being told he had no prospect of winning it.
Before the incident of being accused of being seen drinking on WP/SC premises during pandemic restrictions, it is rather unfortunate that a picture of him perhaps after also imbibing, with three other politicians from different parties who have intriguing pasts too, was posted on Facebook (FB).
The photograph of Mr Ramsay with the others (at the time the picture was taken WC, on the right in the picture) offered an interesting insight into the behaviour of our politicians.
The one time Assembly Member (AM) and MP Simon Thomas (Plaid Cymru [PC]) on the left with Mr Ramsay as you look at it, had admitted making more than 500 indecent images as well as 77 films of youngsters – some involving children as young as six, quitting the SC/WP and his party after being arrested and receiving a suspended jail sentence.
The present WP/SC member for Blaenau Gwent (BG), Alun Davies (WL) (on Mr Ramsay’s right), also has a fascinating past.
The drink gathering he was involved in, came after he had declared on Twitter about controversial ‘comedian’ Huw Marshall’s ‘national’ news service’: “Well. I wish you best of luck with this initiative. Anything to strengthen our news environment should receive a warm welcome”.
But Mr Marshall had made extremely offensive remarks to other senior political figures in 2013, later tried to close down The Eye, been investigated by the police, and complaints after his actions led to a stern reprimand from Twitter, so this was probably an unwise remark to make.
After becoming a member of (what was then) the NAW in 2007, Mr Davies was condemned for claiming back mortgage interest payments for a home he had bought in Cardiff five years before he became an Assembly Member.
In 2013 he was criticised by the cross-party Environment and Sustainability Committee for being evasive during a question session and giving contradictory answers.
In the Spring of 2014 Mr Davies confessed to entering into a relationship with his own special adviser, Anna McMorrin (now MP for Cardiff North), and confirmed that as a result both had left their long term partners. Ms McMorrin was moved from her role.
In June 2014, the First Minister of Wales (FMW) at the time, Carwyn Jones, announced an investigation into a letter Mr Davies had written to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) regarding environmental worries over the proposed development of the Circuit of Wales race track in his own constituency. NRW had expressed concerns about the race track.
On July 8 2014 he was summarily sacked by Mr Jones following repeated written requests to his civil servants for the private details of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments made to opposition politicians. Mr Davies toured television studios with a prepared statement, but refused to take questions.
These scandals are another unfortunate political record.
But they can’t compare with an incumbent of Number 10 staying there just 44 days!
The memories of our Editor Phil Parry’s astonishing, lengthy (although not record breaking!) award-winning career in journalism (including political stories), as he was gripped by the rare, incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!
Publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names