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British politics

The fantasy world of the Tory right

Liz Truss campaigning for Remain in 2016: the right’s next “traitor-in-waiting”? Matt Cardy/WPA Pool/Getty

The Tories have an “incredibly destructive tendency”, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. Whenever a leadership election comes around, the right of the party picks someone who “isn’t really right wing” and supports them as their candidate. When the anointed one then fails to live up to the right’s impossible expectations, they are accused of “betrayal”. It happened with John Major, Boris Johnson and Theresa May. Their latest “traitor-in-waiting”? Liz Truss. The Foreign Secretary has been heartily endorsed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries as “probably a stronger Brexiteer than both of us”. Which is, of course, nonsense. Truss forcefully backed Remain in 2016 – indeed, she gave “one of the best speeches” of the whole campaign (watch it here).

“Real Brexit” is for the hard right what “real socialism” is to the hard left – an “abstract, undefined idea, always a little over the horizon”. All the problems with Brexit, we’re told, are because we haven’t “tried the real thing”. Again, it’s nonsense. And it’s setting up the next leader to fail. The right will be similarly disappointed when its other pie-in-the-sky demands aren’t met: when tax cuts don’t pay for themselves; when government policy doesn’t stop migrant Channel crossings; when the Northern Ireland border problem doesn’t just “disappear”. And as long as the gap remains “between what they expect to happen and what is remotely likely to happen”, the right will continue “electing leaders and feeling betrayed by them”.