The news that Boris Johnson has agreed on a deal with HarperCollins to publish a memoir “like no other” inevitably calls to mind that famous quote of Winston Churchill: “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it myself.” Of course, in reality, Churchill’s record spoke for itself, and, unfortunately, the same is true of Johnson’s eventful time in office.
Whether Johnson succeeds in lifting his presently tarnished reputation remains to be seen. Whether anyone believes anything in it, apart from the ISBN number, is also rather uncertain. The announcement has already sparked speculation on social media as to what the title of the book might be, with one commentator suggesting the clever Etonment, or Liar’s Joker. More than most memoirs it will be an act of self-vindication, and, as we know, Johnson is not one for a mea culpa.
Though no publication date has been set, it all seems a little premature to be thinking of his “legacy”. Johnson is yet to face the House of Commons investigation into whether he lied to parliament, for example. Certainly, Johnson doesn’t look like a man about to retire.
He has given every indication that he thinks his defenestration last summer was a moment of madness by a herd of panicked MPs and ministers, like wildebeests fleeing some imaginary predator. There is constant talk of a comeback, maybe after some predictably disastrous local election results coming in May – Johnson’s very own Dunkirk moment.
On the other hand, we have yet to see whether he can even hold his own parliamentary seat at Uxbridge and South Ruislip – the rumours are strong that he’s on a “chicken run” to a safer seat. It’s all dicey, but, as ever, he needs the money. After all, he had an £800,000 credit facility with a distant cousin during his time in No 10. He must be missing that almost as much as his phone calls to Volodymyr Zelensky.
It must be tempting. There’s talk of £6m plus for Johnson’s stories, but maybe more if he dishes the dirt – pushing Gove into the dog bowl, making Cameron cry, making up cruel nicknames for May. Prince Harry has shown just how much a volume of unguarded, scurrilous gossip and spicy anecdote can command on the international market – and Johnson wants his “lifestyle” looking after. But wouldn’t the book have to be out sharpish?
Perhaps that’s the point here. Johnson can, true to the precepts of cakeism, have his advance and eat it, so to speak. Like the reported £500,000 he extracted from Hodder and Stoughton almost 10 years ago for a biography of William Shakespeare, still to be delivered, once Johnson has his paws on the juicy advance, he can take his leisurely time about spilling the beans in that rumbustious, semi-fictional way of his.
He may be a little late with the manuscript, notwithstanding any contractual commitments. What can a publisher do? Sue him? Demand their money back? Fat chance. Besides, the longer he spends messing about in politics and helping to break his party asunder at the next election, the more substantial his collection of intrigues, plots and betrayals will be.
In his various ways, he’s undermined Iain Duncan Smith (plotted downfall), Michael Howard (misled Howard’s office about an affair), David Cameron (backing the wrong side in the Brexit referendum in the belief/hope Leave would lose), Theresa May (her nemesis) and, now, the “snake” Sunak. That’s five leaders – an all-time record. He would have tried to assassinate Truss too but she self-destructed so fast Johnson never got the chance.
Ted Heath, the “incredible sulk” who enjoyed the longest feud in history with his successor Margaret Thatcher, took about two decades between receiving his commission for an autobiography and actually letting them have a script. The old boy simply wouldn’t admit the game was up and, until he was far too old, never quite gave up the hope that he’d be recalled to save the nation from the horrors of Thatcherism.
Given that Johnson is only 58 and has nothing better to do with his time than plan his Lazarus-style resurrection, there’s a fair chance that we may have to wait a wee while longer for his reflections on his misspent middle age. Naturally, we may rest assured that, whatever else he reveals, he will protect the person he loves most in the world: himself.