October 24, 2022 - 11:30am

I bet he wishes he hadn’t bothered now. Over the weekend Boris Johnson flew back from the Caribbean to take part in a Tory leadership contest that had started without him. But having come all that way, he abruptly withdrew from the race — despite claims he had enough MP support to get through to the next stage. 

His most fervent supporters are apoplectic. Nadine Dorries insists that “it will now be impossible to avoid a GE [general election]”. The logic here is that only Boris has a democratic mandate because only he was leader at the last election. But as Dorries knows very well, ours is not a presidential system — it is the MPs who make up the parliamentary majority who have the  mandate. 

However, some Right-wing commentators are taking the democracy argument to a whole new level of wrong-headedness. For instance, here’s Martin Daubney attacking Steve Baker for backing Rishi Sunak instead of Johnson: 


The WEF is the World Economic Forum — often referred to as “Davos” (the Swiss ski resort where the organisation holds its highly exclusive annual conferences). I’ve written about the Forum before (for instance, here, here and here) and it should be obvious I’m not a fan. 

However, the idea of a “WEF coup”, whether against Boris Johnson or Liz Truss, is ridiculous. More to the point, it is utterly redundant. We simply do not need a shadowy conspiracy to explain the downfall of the last two Tory leaders, we just need to realise that Conservative MPs are able to read opinion polls.

Furthermore, the collapse in Conservative support was clearly self-inflicted. No one forced Downing Street to hold a series of drink-sodden parties in the middle of lockdown. And as for the Truss government, no one compelled it to spook the markets with a long list of unfunded tax cuts.   

Of course, the establishment’s usual mistake with conspiracy theories is to take them literally but not seriously — when it should be the other way round. Thus loose talk of a “WEF coup” ought to be interpreted as shorthand for the ability of the global money markets to bring down a Prime Minister. Surely this is an affront to democracy?

Paul Embery — neither a Right-winger nor a conspiracy theorist — is concerned that “the belief that financial markets cannot be challenged… will become embedded in our politics.”

It’s a reasonable point, but a democratic mandate does not entitle a Prime Minister to unlimited credit. If a government doesn’t want to be subject to the verdict of global financiers, then it shouldn’t borrow from them. He who lends to the piper calls the tune.  

If conservatism can be summed up in just three words, it is these: “there are limits”. But neither of our last two Prime Ministers are conservatives. Like the liberalists they are, they believe in the unbounded self, unconstrained by reality. Each of them, in their own way, applied this philosophy to their time in government — which, ultimately,  is only reason for their successive downfalls. 

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.