Voices: Boris Johnson’s ‘shadow prime minister’ act is wearing thin
Ever since he delivered a heavily caveated resignation speech last year – in his “hasta la vista” phase – Johnson has all too obviously been looking for a chance to make his comeback.
When Liz Truss was toppling unexpectedly early, the news reached Johnson as he was basking in the Caribbean sun in the Dominican Republic; reportedly the holiday guest of Sam Blyth, Canadian businessman and guarantor of Johnson’s £800,000 credit line (larger than many a small business).
He was quickly on the phone and back on the plane, assembling his supporters for an outrageous bid for power. Part bluff, part opportunism, it was never going to come off. But he put a marker down, and made his point. He wasn’t going to go away.
Now? I’m indebted to The New European for noting Johnson’s emergence as a sort of “shadow prime minister”. It is as if he is constantly reminding his fan base – Eurosceptic MPs, grassroots devotees, a few voters – that he’s still here and still available.
He’s taken to almost following Rishi Sunak around, a kind of “irl” trolling. He’s popped up asking loaded questions in the Commons. He likes to visit Ukraine, though electoral arithmetic has meant more tours of his neglected Uxbridge constituency lately. He’s been to DC campaigning for more arms to be sent to Zelensky. He pushed himself to the front of the crowd in Westminster Hall to have his picture taken with the charismatic Ukrainian leader, and unsuccessfully tried to lead him out of the Hall.
Johnson, with a chutzpah rarely glimpsed among normal mortals, has even made an “intervention” on the Northern Ireland Protocol – denouncing the very shoddy “oven ready” deal he himself negotiated, campaigned on, ran through parliament, but appears to have never even read.
If it’s onshore wind farms, the economy, Putin, Ulster, Brexit, or “levelling up” that levitates to the top of the political pile Johnson will pop up, pretending he’s still prime minister, making speeches, asking questions, posing for the cameras with an inane grin and boosterish thumbs up. Soon he’s to speak on Britain’s global “soft power”, despite the fact he’s done more than anyone to diminish it.
The act is wearing thin. When Brexit was popular, he made it his cause, though he hardly believed in it or thought the Leave campaign would win in 2016. Now he is inextricably tangled up in it, and the project has bombed, economically and politically.
It’s why he will never again be prime minister; but that won’t stop him trying, and defying the reality that it’s all over now.