Maureen Dowd

Lessons to Britain’s Conservatives

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never. That was Winston Churchill’s famous mantra. Liz Truss, another Tory prime minister trying to lead a battered Britain, couldn’t follow that bulldog advice. She wilted fast.

She lasted only 44 days before resigning. The Storm didn’t even have time to Gather. The photo of Queen Elizabeth shaking hands with Truss at Balmoral Castle, as Truss took over as head of the government, is epic in its symbolism.

Liz squared. The longest-reigning monarch meets the shortest-serving prime minister. It was such a swift fall that Truss was anointed by a queen and resigned to a king.

In years of yore, I would have felt sheepish about a woman self-immolating so quickly.

When I covered Geraldine Ferraro’s run for the vice presidency and Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, it felt as though their fates were tied to gender. If they failed, many women told me in interviews, there was an X through the whole X chromosome, a blot on the female copybook. If not those women then, they would say, what woman ever?

Although when Sarah Palin flamed out in 2008, coming across as comically inept, it did not reflect poorly on women in general. That was an important step for women.

Truss took that step for Britain: Many consider the third woman to dwell at No. 10 incompetent and hopeless, perhaps the worst P.M. in history.

She was a bad communicator, a poor speaker and weak on camera. She didn’t understand that you couldn’t simply borrow money from the future. She managed to be a radical ideologue and a lightweight at the same time. (Blimey, sounds very Trumpy.) But no one believes Truss blew up on the launchpad because she’s a woman.

She turned out to be a stooge for a reckless, unprincipled Boris Johnson, who was no doubt scheming to see if he could snatch back the reins.

Gavin Barwell, the chief of staff for Theresa May when she was prime minister, predicted that Johnson — who’s been trying to write a book on Shakespeare for years — would haunt Truss like Banquo’s ghost.

“The moment she gets into political difficulty,” Barwell told The Times’s Mark Landler, “there’s going to be a bring-back-Boris movement.”

And here we are at that moment.

“It’s incredibly funny if you’re not English,” Henry Porter, a British writer, told me. “It’s humiliating if you are. Boris is Boris Karloff, the monster who comes alive again, after you thought he was buried.”

Many think Johnson planned this from the start. By backing Truss, he was able to defeat Rishi Sunak, the ally who stabbed him in the back, “Julius Caesar”-style. Johnson threw his support behind Truss, knowing that she would be so mediocre that he’d look good in comparison.

Just like Donald Trump, Johnson may think if he gets back into office he can squash the investigation into his chicanery. He’s enmeshed in an inquiry into whether he misled Parliament about his Downing Street get-downs during the pandemic.

The outcome was foggy, as Johnson rushed back from a vacation in the Caribbean. In some vote estimates, Sunak was ahead but Johnson was winning support, as well. James Duddridge, an M.P. who backs Johnson, told the British press: “I’ve been in contact with the boss via WhatsApp. He’s going to fly back. He said: ‘I’m flying back. We are going to do this. I’m up for it.’”

Tory lawmakers are split. Half are morally outraged by Boris, and the rest are worried that without the riveting spectacle of Boris, they’ll lose their seats in two years.

Many Tories believe, amid rising electric bills, power shortages and inflation, that Sunak — whose wealthy wife was accused of avoiding paying 20 million pounds in taxes until the press upbraided her — would be wiped out by Labor in two years. So it depends on whether the self-preservation group is bigger than the disgusted-with-BoJo group.

British conservatives are becoming as shameless as American conservatives, willing to put up with any outrage to keep their posh offices and perks. The “good chap” principle in England, the tradition that sometimes you have to leave office for the greater good, seems passé.

“One of the glories of the traditional Conservative Party used to be its readiness to place country before party,” Peter Oborne, a British journalist, wrote in this paper recently.

Winston Churchill set this standard before stepping down as prime minister in 1955: “The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgment is right and necessary for the honor and safety of Great Britain.”

Mr. Oborne asserted that “today’s Conservatives, by contrast, cling to power for power’s sake,” and that “their obstinacy is ensuring the ruination of Britain.”

The New York Times