There are many angry quitters in the Tory Party.
PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Video gamers brook no quitters. They have a special name for those that commit that cardinal sin. They call them “rage quitters” and they’re deemed to be the lowest of the low. Rage quitters are the dysfunctional endocrine system of the online world; the people who run too hot when they’re not winning a game and would rather hit the power button rather than see the inevitable appear on their screen: “You Lose!”
It would appear that the current Houses of Parliament is full of rage quitters and, for the moment, they’re all edging their way along the government benches and eying the exit. Dominic Raab is the latest to press the reset button on his career. With a head like a stonecutter’s mallet, Raab is hardly known for his subtlety and the manner of his departure is suitably blunt. It feels like a CTRL ALT DELETE moment. His screen flashes blue, silence descends for a long moment before the fans start up again and the boot sequence begins to load a new career in finance, the media, a seat on some multinational, or, most likely given the habit of former Tories, all the above while also earning lunch money by writing a series of highly derivative thrillers. Walk up to that display stall in your mind’s eye and see it now. Raab at least has a surname that would fit neatly across a meaty paperback in Tesco.
RAAB: Heavy Duty.
RAAB: Strong Vibes.
RAAB: Point of Denial.
The plots write themselves. Misunderstood but ruggedly handsome government troubleshooter, Clark Spreader, previously kicked out of the SAS for being too tough and not suitably woke, starts a new career offering to help steer legislation through parliament whilst simultaneously suppressing the Wagner Group in Central Africa…
Clark Spreader would never quit. He’s decompressing. He’s taking a break. He’s exploring new avenues. He’s giving others a chance to steer the ship of state. He’s (what does the blurb on the back cover say? Oh yes…) he’s “increasingly concerned over the last few years about the pressure the job has placed on my young family”.
Thirty-six Tory MPs have already declared they’re now serving their notice. It really isn’t cricket. Indeed, it isn’t even real cricket: a game that routinely sees play carry on when there’s absolutely nothing left to fight for. England chasing 800 against the West Indies on a tricky wicket but only two down after tea on the last day. Another two hours of Geoffrey Boycotting before they accept the inevitable. The win was never likely and a draw impossible. It was only ever going to be a big, bloated LOSS but they still turned up to duck the bouncers, pretending that a few runs on the board meant something. That isn’t mere sport. It’s a lesson in life. You do not quit simply because you’re losing. You see it through until the very bitter end because that bitterness is part of life. Accept the loss graciously. It’s the probiotic goodness that gets your gut active again.
The reverse of this is what the Westminster wet-quitters are leaving behind. The metaphor of the rats deserting the sinking ship doesn’t begin to do it justice. The rats never had bunks. They were never salaried. They were not even integral to the running of the ship. Their sudden disappearance is not the same as the crew leaping into the lifeboats and leaving the passengers to navigate by the stars.
The next parliament will begin with a sense of absence: an absence of contrition, an absence of humility, and an absence of loss. There is no shame in losing except to people who do not have the moral backbone to accept defeat. They all fear having their own Portillo moment of public humiliation in the early hours of some Friday morning in a cold sports centre in the middle of Enfield Southgate. They begrudge the other side their victory, their moment to gloat as they themselves gloated in the past. They don’t want to face the inevitable and will instead rightly claim that they never lost, which will look good on the CVs but do little to help their psychology.
Losing anything is as important as winning. Some would say it’s even more important. Winners rarely reflect on what they got wrong. They don’t listen to criticism. “But I won!” is their only reply to the wise counsel offered by those around them. Noble losers, on the other hand, are to be cherished. They will internalise their loss. The best of them will modify their behaviour. Treat it as a learning experience. Emerge from it the better person. Longfellow wrote that “Defeat may be victory in disguise; / The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide”. True quitters just maintain the status quo. They were right. They will always be right. They never learn. They never change.
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Besides, it’s very much in the spirit of modern politics. It was Andrew Mitchell who is reported to have said of the former Prime Minister that “Boris is like the James Bond villain who quits the sinking craft in his escape pod, stroking his white cat, leaving the rest of us to clear up.” They have the example of the Prime Minister who didn’t want anything to do with parliament once he was out of office. Nominally still an MP, he was off doing other things; making a fortune lecturing in America rather than doing the honourable thing and occupying a spot on the backbenches.
And we know that Johnson would be a rage quitter too if he thought there was no chance to come back. These are people who believe in power and not parliament. Some might say that’s a good thing, that it marks the Conservatives out as the natural party of government. But conversely, it means it attracts people drawn to titles, influence, and intrigue rather than service. And that’s what we now hear. The calamitous din of the Masters of the Universe, their speedboats flying out the side of the superstructure of the Tory Party tanker; the life rafts with champagne on ice popping up in the middle of the Med; the parachutes flapping in the palm trees where they landed in the desert oasis, where there’s only spring water and no hot or cold running BBC.