The fastest way to ensure one is not taken seriously in contemporary discourse is to start making comparisons with the Third Reich. The crimes of Hitler and his henchmen were so repulsive and extreme they bear little resemblance to anything else. But something needs to happen in the Conservative party, and I feel forced to compare it with what happened immediately after the Third Reich: the mucking out of Germany and the sanitisation of the large numbers of those who had, for whatever reason, obediently endorsed whatever Hitler did. The Conservative party, if it is ever to be trusted, respected or even just taken seriously again, must now undergo its own version of denazification.

The group required to atone or be thrown out if the Tories are to flourish, are those who continue to defend the justly-disgraced ex-leader and prime minister, Boris Johnson. The waters have closed over him rather effectively since the Privileges Committee warned that he would be suspended from the Commons. After he engaged in the parliamentary equivalent of contempt of court by leaking the committee’s findings before their publication, the notional suspension was extended to 90 days, long enough to trigger a recall petition in his Uxbridge constituency. That would have led to a by-election and his possible defeat, but Johnson deprived the electors of the chance to pass judgement and resigned his seat.

However, despite his richly deserved disgrace, a few of the goons who owe the careers he gave them because they were either too stupid or immoral to contradict him, continue to rush to his defence. Even further down the food chain, among the rank-and-file members, many more of pronounced bovinity still think he is a “winner”. This strain of idiocy and amorality is poisoning the party, and ensuring that sensible and decent people who might otherwise have some regard for the Conservative Party – who might even vote for it – are being repelled.

Back in November 2021, it seemed that Tory parliamentarians had learned a valuable lesson regarding Johnson and his ruthless rule-breaking, when he ordered MPs to remove the entire Commons Standards system, ostensibly to protect the political career of Owen Paterson. Unlike Johnson, Paterson is not a bad man. He made a mistake, and had he simply apologised and accepted a sanction he’d still be in parliament. However, Johnson had his own reasons for wanting the standards system eradicated. His chronic contempt for parliamentary rules included failure to declare benefits he had received. Most famously, he persuaded Lord Brownlow, a Conservative party donor, to pay a bill for £58,000 for refurbishing Downing Street. The amount had to be repaid and Johnson obtained the funds from an unknown source – having long been the beneficiary of largesse from others with more money than judgment, not all of it transparent.

It’s shocking that nearly a third of the parliamentary Conservative party were happy to have Johnson back

Johnson had the guile to believe that the Paterson affair had given him the perfect opportunity to dismantle the system that was sticking its nose into his odorous financial affairs. But his MPs rebelled: they weren’t going to invite public obloquy by removing any serious checks and balances from a parliament patently no longer filled with entirely honourable members. The idiotic ploy was defeated, and Paterson, being an honourable man, resigned from the Commons, his political career at an end. It left a nasty taste in the mouths of many whom Johnson purported to lead, but not, it seems, in the mouths of quite enough. As for Johnson himself, he was not humiliated, for he has no shame; just a modus operandi of seeing what he can get away with.

By the summer of 2022, most of the country had come to regard him as dishonest, incompetent, self-serving, even absurd. Having seemingly abdicated any responsibility himself, he had forfeited whatever trust with the electorate he’d once had. The parliamentary Conservatives also seemed to have finally gauged Johnson’s atrociousness when an extraordinary 58 members on the payroll resigned, in the reasonable expectation that he would also resign as head of a government over which he had lost control. Many of his fellow ministers – even some rampantly ambitious and otherwise unemployable ones – decided his continuation in office was toxifying the party, and them. But even at the last Johnson clung on, pretending such a vast loss of ministerial support did not necessitate his resignation. Yet resign he did, a few hours later, with as much ill-grace as possible, finally realising that the game was up. His more fanatical devotees – Mogg, Dorries and others on the cretinous extreme of the party – continued to worship, but the party moved on.

Or so it seemed. By electing as their next leader someone so deluded as Liz Truss, the Tories – both the MPs who put her on the ballot and the boneheaded activists who voted for her – proved yet again they were unworthy of trust. If the party was incapable, for a second successive time, of putting a serious leader into Downing Street, it was hardly fit to run the country. Those calling for a general election seemed to have a point. But then the party, via another self-inflicted wound – Truss’s lunatic economic policy of borrowing over £45bn to fund tax cuts – had a chance to choose a new leader and, if not expunge its sins, at least to choose the path to redemption.

However, that was when it became clear something was profoundly rotten in the Conservative party, a nasty concoction of mediocrity mixed with unhealthy doses of venality, craven ambition, and rank stupidity. Johnson, who had taken his latest wife on holiday to the Caribbean, decided to come home early, before the close of nominations in the new leadership contest. His over-excited toadies briefed the media that he would be a candidate. There was one complication: the 100 nominations required from MPs. Surely there could not be that many prepared to support a former prime minister who had resigned in chaos just weeks before and was wreathed in disgrace? Johnson then announced he wouldn’t stand; whether he’d just been making mischief, or had feared he might lose, only he knows. But he claimed to have had over 100 MPs behind him, which one assumed was another of his brazen lies. Sadly, on this rare occasion, it wasn’t.

The country had a narrow escape, because the charlatan might otherwise have won, returned to Downing Street and even now be refusing to move despite the findings of the Privileges Committee. As it is, one hopes Partygate has ended his political life for good. But it remains shocking that nearly a third of the parliamentary party were happy to have him back. This fact alone makes them morally and intellectually unfit to legislate. Many supported him because of his popularity with the party’s activists, and hoped that would rub off on them. The same fear motivated the mass abstention among Tory MPs when the Commons voted on the report. Just half a dozen of the usual gormless obsessives voted against it: the dogs barked, it seemed, and the caravan moved on.

Only they didn’t, and it hasn’t. From the grass roots to parliament itself, the Conservative party harbours many people who deny a stark reality: that Johnson is the greatest scoundrel ever to be prime minister. In their deranged view, his lies, irresponsibility and incompetence, and the pall they cast over our public life, shouldn’t stop him from serving again. To decent and reasonable people, that Johnson retains such support within his party means it is entirely unworthy of their trust at an election.

Which brings us back to how the Allies went about cleaning up post-war Germany. There were still some alten Kameraden who avoided Nuremberg, and who into the 1970s would meet to talk about “the old days” and drink a toast to the boys in South America. But they were never again allowed near the levers of power; nor, in the interests of restoring trust, should Johnson and the lunatics who still drool over him.

Simon Heffer is a historian, columnist for the Telegraph and Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham

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