by Peter Franklin
Friday, 24
June 2022
Analysis
10:00

Oliver Dowden always has the last laugh

His resignation letter skewers Boris Johnson's tanking administration
by Peter Franklin
Joke’s on you. (Credit: Hollie Adams/Getty)

There’s always one — the workplace comedian who sees it as his role to keep his colleagues on their toes whether they like it or not. In Conservative Campaign Headquarters, that person used to be Oliver Dowden. 

I’m not referring to his tenure as Party Chairman. Rather, I mean his earlier stint at CCHQ when, from 2004 to 2007, he was a desk officer in the Conservative Research Department. I was also working there at the time and remember his constant stream of impromptu skits and impersonations. That’s not to say the younger Dowden was the office clown — or, even worse, a David Brent type. No, he was both well-regarded and riotously funny. 

Years later he became an MP and then, in rapid succession, a minister, a cabinet minister and, finally, party chairman. He’s a natural fit for any rallying-the-troops role, but I didn’t see much evidence of his earlier comic genius. Or, at least, not until this morning. 

His resignation letter is a masterpiece of bone dry, pitch black humour. At first sight, it appears he’s quitting because of the by-election disasters in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton. However, the wording is exquisite:

“We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.”

Who is this “somebody”? Is it the writer of the letter — or the person to whom it is addressed, i.e. the Prime Minister? The phrasing is ambiguous. Note also that Dowden says it would not be right for him to remain “in office” — in other words he’s not just quitting as Party Chairman, but as a member of Boris Johnson’s government. 

The final line is the clincher: “I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party” — any parallel commitment to the current party leader is conspicuous by its absence. 

Boris Johnson would have been in trouble even without this resignation. Last night’s losses were on a scale that should terrify Conservative MPs in the North and South alike. Tiverton was especially bad — and establishes a new record for the biggest ever majority to be over-turned in a by-election. 

So Dowden is right, the government cannot carry on down its current path. If he is to continue as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson needs a hard reset of his entire administration. But in bringing back Lynton Crosby and his associates, he’s opted for “business as usual” instead.

Crosby and colleagues certainly mean business — they are disciplined, relentless campaigners. However, that is all they are. Their involvement is no substitute for the depth of vision and scale of ambition one should expect from a government with a big majority. Those things can only come from the elected politicians.

Levelling-up the land without proper funding is a thankless task, but some ministers — like Michael Gove — are doing what they can to make a difference. Others though mainly serve as enablers of Johnson’s misrule. If they’ve got any self-respect then Dowden’s resignation should be first of many.

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Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
5 months ago

It’s a fabulous letter:

We cannot carry out with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.

As in, the person who ought to take responsibility is too craven to do so, so I don’t want anything to do with that person any more.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago

It’s really easy to pen such poisonous letters – but you still look like a numpty for firing arrows inside the tent. Smartass numpties are the worst kind.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
5 months ago

I wondered about the timing of the no confidence vote. I thought at the time that if they wanted to get rid of Boris they would be better waiting until after the By Elections. They knew they were coming and knew they would probably do badly. So why did they push through the no confidence vote when they did?

Selwyn Jones
Selwyn Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

It has been suggested that some gnome in the pay of central office pushed for the confidence vote early in order to spike it. Now some other gnome is attempting to prevent the 22 from changing the rules – again, to save Johnson’s bacon. Astonishing that a party can be so craven as to stick with a proven dud. It just goes to show that the “conservatives” are simply “non-Labour” these days, like the worst sort of Macmillanite fop.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

I think Boris has been completely exposed for the lightweight he fundamentally is – BUT – you always need to consider the alternatives. And I can’t see any that inspires me in the Tory Party let alone outside it.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
5 months ago

as the old joke says, Boris is a crossword clue ” Four letters, female, ends in nt, but not aunt….

Jane H
Jane H
5 months ago

If anybody still knows what female means!

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
5 months ago

Do you do jokes with words about racial characteristics too, or is it just women you like to demean?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
5 months ago

Who arranged for the vote of no confidence in Johnson to be held before these by-elections? Did any of the Tory MPs submit their letters into the 1922 committee out of support for Johnson?
BTW Michael Gove’s big idea currently is to use the benefit system to inflate house prices even further.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
5 months ago

Interesting theory! With hindsight that looks to be why the vote was held pre-elections.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
5 months ago

This morning Boris is telling us we should focus on the policies (whatever they are), not his character. But isn’t his personality what most of us voted him in for?
OK, like others, I voted to ‘get Brexit done’. Boris has done that, so perhaps he should have gone when we left the EU. He could have said “my job is done”, had a chance to rest from catching Covid 2 years ago, and got back to what he enjoys, writing books and newspaper columns!

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
5 months ago

Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.’
In other words, ‘I am taking responsibility, because I, Oliver, have failed’. That’s all, folks, however much you’d like to read something else into it.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
5 months ago

To a point, but he’s suggesting that he’s only resigning because someone higher up won’t!