LBC Views: Tory leadership backstabbing and bitching is like school

27 July 2022, 14:38

Natasha Devon likens the Tory leadership race to the behaviour of secondary school children
Natasha Devon likens the Tory leadership race to the behaviour of secondary school children. Picture: Global

By Stephen Rigley

This month my debut novel, Toxic, was published. The story follows an academic year in the life of sixth-former Llewella Williams. Llewella becomes platonically infatuated with a fellow student and they quickly form an intense bond. It isn’t long before their friendship becomes toxic (hence the title of the book) with jealousy and manipulation.

Whilst it’s tempting to think this kind of behaviour is the sole remit of teenagers, many never grow out of it. Look at the shenanigans happening in government: As I type, the Conservative leadership race has dwindled down to the final two, meaning either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will be our next Prime Minister come Autumn. Commentators have called it the nastiest leadership contest in history, with a planned debate on Sky News rumoured to have been cancelled over concerns that all the bitching and backstabbing could irrevocably damage the reputation of the Tory party.

Whilst it might be deemed unusual in the political sphere, this type of behaviour will be all-too familiar to anyone who works in a school. Every year group has a ‘personality’, I’ve found, and this is usually defined by one or two of its strongest characters. They’re so dominant, you can literally feel the air shift when they enter or leave a room.

Boris Johnson is the quintessential alpha-kid, of course. Hugely wealthy with an ‘eff-it’ attitude, he’ll let you come over and trash his parents’ mansion whilst they’re away on holiday. He’s also a laugh, the sort of ‘legend’ who will prank the teacher and then answer back in pig-Latin when he’s called on it. He has the sort of intelligence which means he can ace an exam even having totally neglected his coursework (unfortunately, in the context of this analogy, his coursework was vital Cobra meetings on COVID strategy and the NHS).

This sort of teenager always has ‘cronies’ – a couple of pupils in the year who are unconditionally loyal to them and do menial tasks on their behalf, like telling whoever is out of favour that they aren’t allowed to sit with them at lunch. Think Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries.

Sometimes, there’s a point where the most popular person in the year takes it too far. They get a bit drunk on their own sense of invincibility and jump the shark, somehow. The consequences of their actions are considered too dire to be overlooked and it results in them getting expelled. This leaves a power vacuum.

In the natural pecking order of things, the position of alpha would usually fall to the second-in-command. This is normally someone slightly more reserved, who goes along with the group for the sake of an easy life, but secretly has reservations. They support the alpha because of the reflected glory this gives them, but they’re also keeping score, thinking about how they would do it all differently and lining up a couple of their own cronies to support them if there’s ever an opportunity. Sunak fits the bill, here.

There’ll be a couple of outsiders who’ll try their luck at instigating a revolution – the geek (Tugendhat), the activist (Mourdant) and the Captain of the Debating Society who has terrifyingly strong opinions on everything from the death-penalty to two-for-one offers in Tescos (Badenoch).

Ultimately, they’ll be foiled by the interloper: They’ve usually come from a different school, maybe on a scholarship. They’ve attained their status by watching what the popular crowd do and then copying their mannerisms, dress sense and way of speaking. To the casual observer they seem no different from the others, only those closest to them know that they code-switch immediately they get home from school, throwing off their learned-identity along with their blazer. This person is cleverer than you realise, and more dangerous, because you never quite know what they’re thinking. This person is, of course, Liz Truss.

Do we ever really grow out of the cliquey behaviour we adopt in secondary school? The current state of British politics would suggest not.

Toxic is available now, published by UcLan, priced £8.99

You can hear Natasha speaking to Iain Dale about the book on this week’s episode of Book Club.