Once upon a time, the Conservative party seemed to want to become a modern political party.
One Nation politics, compassionate Conservatism, an attempt to recruit new members who were young, from ethnic minorities – David Cameron’s ‘hug a hoodie’ moment.
It failed. And look at what Britain is left with. A Conservative government which has not only driven millions into poverty with a near-decade long austerity programme, but whose leadership contenders seem intent on rolling back decades of social and economic progress too.
The race to the right is in full swing. Since the leadership campaign kicked off in earnest at the weekend, candidates have openly talked about restricting abortion rights; allowing parents to pull their children out of classes which teach about relationships, including LGBT relationships; generous tax cuts for the better-off; more stop and search powers for the police; increasing defence spending.
If it was just the policies on offer, it would be bad enough. But it’s the character of several of the candidates too and their lack of preparedness for this job, or probably any other.
Let’s start with Boris “f*** business” Johnson, the frontrunner who may well be Britain’s next prime minister. The man who’s compared women wearing burkhas to letterboxes and referred to Africans as “flag waving piccanninies” with “watermelon smiles”.
He kicked off his campaign by saying he’d refuse to pay our £39billion debt to the EU. So not content with saying he’d take us out of the EU without a deal with all the damage that would cause to our economy, he’d then destroy Britain’s good reputation for paying its debts – at the very time when we’d be seeking new trade deals outside the EU.
Then there’s Michael Gove, whose leadership ambitions have been undermined by his admission that he took cocaine several times as a journalist in the 1990s.
This is the same Michael Gove who, as Justice Secretary, presided over the implementation of drug laws which criminalised thousands of drug users, sending many of them to jail. As if that wasn’t enough, as education secretary Gove introduced lifetime bans for teachers convicted of drugs offences. Hypocrisy doesn’t begin to cover it.
Dominic ‘I am not a feminist’ Raab, thinks men get a “raw deal” and are the victims of “obnoxious bigotry” by women. He also sees leaving the EU as an opportunity to scrap workers’ employment rights. He held the job of Brexit secretary for five months without grasping the rather important fact that most of Britain’s trade with the EU relied on the Dover-Calais crossing.
Esther McVey has said it’s “right” that people should have to rely on food banks “as times are tough” and that withholding benefits would “teach” people to look for work seriously.
Andrea Leadsom? Opposes marriage equality for gay couples. Jeremy Hunt? Supports reducing the abortion time limit from 24 to 12 weeks, which would endanger the health of thousands of women.
The list goes on.
But the key issue in this race is Brexit, and how to pull Britain out of the European Union when there is no prospect of the EU renegotiating the withdrawal agreement, no parliamentary support for a no-deal Brexit, and a clock ticking steadily towards the new exit date of October 31.
One or two of the candidates are prepared to acknowledge this Gordian knot, though that doesn’t mean they have achievable plans to untie it. But they are the minority.
Seven of them support a no-deal exit, undeterred by parliamentary opposition or the warnings from businesses across Britain that they are totally unprepared for this scenario.
That doesn’t seem to bother some of them. They’d simply prorogue, or suspend, parliament in order to force through what they want. This is what parliamentary democracy in Britain has come to: a system to be swept aside when it suits the ambitions of the prime minister.
In the meantime, the issues which really matter to people in this country – austerity, the climate crisis, being locked out of decision-making – are virtually ignored. This will go on until late July leaving Britain in a state of stasis, except for the grotesque spectacle of this Tory leadership circus.
And politicians wonder why the public hold them in such contempt.
Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion