Oh dear. The Boris Bandwagon is rolling again. He’s putting himself about, laying off the lecture circuit and the beach vacations – he’s made about £1m since he was kicked out – and his acolytes are bigging him up.
None more so than Nadine Dorries, who has proved her devotion to the lost leader. Also in Johnson’s corner is the Conservative Democratic Organisation – backed by prominent Johnson supporters Priti Patel and the Tory donor Lord Cruddas – which MPs fear is a front for the Bring Back Boris movement.
They want the grassroots members only to choose the leader – not MPs – which won’t happen until they go into opposition, but they’ll be keeping up the pressure til then. Nads wrote at the weekend that without Boris, the Conservatives are finished, adding that “nothing has gone right for us since the day they removed Boris Johnson”.
Johnsonologists can read the signs already, and it’s plain the old rogue is on manoeuvres again. A prime ministerial-style new year broadcast on social media. A semi-loyal speech at the Tories’ Carlton Club, where a flattering new portrait was unveiled. “I’ve been framed,” he quipped and he dished out the usual sub-Churchillian rhetoric for the fans: “Never give in, keep fighting, keep backing the government – keep making the case for levelling up, for opportunities and for a dynamic low-tax global Britain… There is no desire to vote for Keir Starmer, for Sir Crasheroonie Snoozefest.”
Meaningless stuff, and rich from a bloke who failed to deliver and put taxes up. It served to remind anyone who cared to see that this great charismatic leader was still available in their darkest hour, as was Winston in 1940. Johnson’s boosterish remarks carried the warm glow of nostalgia for the faithful, the old religion that got them their thumping victory in 2019… and, they dare to hope, can do so again in 2024.
Note also, however, the absence of any mention of the present prime minister or his policies, because Boris thinks Rishi a snake, blames him for his downfall and isn’t bothered about the deficit. In truth, another go for Boris would be like the Truss experiment all over again. But the Tory right think she was stabbed in the back, too.
Is the stage set for the biggest comeback since Lazarus, then, with optimal timing after the May local elections which will be a wipeout for the Tories? It seems to me that he’ll never stop pursuing the prize, just for the sake of it because it’s there. He’s not that interested in governing, but just loves conspiracies and campaigns.
Basically, there is no power on Earth that can stop Boris Johnson from trying to get his hands on the leadership again, even if he’s very unlikely to succeed. He feels cheated and betrayed, and he wants back in. He always will. Even the latest stories about Partygate – actual bonking on the premises, to use a Boris kind of term – won’t deter him. Nor will the Commons privileges committee investigation into whether he lied to parliament.
In a few weeks, a full programme of public televised witness interrogations will take place, including an appearance by Johnson himself. It will be a toe-curling, buttock-clenching, stomach-churning orgy of hypocrisy and embarrassment. But, humiliated or not, Johnson will shrug it off. Neither he nor the “base” care anyway. Same goes for living rent-free in the £20m house of a Tory donor’s wife. Johnson is a scandal machine, but you may as well complain about the weather.
The point is that Johnson is also pathological. It seems in his nature to betray, to fib, to dissemble, to distract, to manipulate, to fix, to plot and to do anything else to get to Downing Street again. No amount of public criticism from terrified MPs on his own side makes any difference. He’s apparently not concerned about the damage he does to his beleaguered party, or the country for that matter. He just cannot help himself. He is shameless.
I am reminded again about the old joke about the scorpion and the frog who want to cross a river. The frog, after receiving assurances about non-aggression, gives the scorpion a lift – but halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog. Just as the pair are both about to croak, the frog asks the scorpion why he did that. “Because I’m a scorpion, of course. What do you expect?”
And that, I think, is very much what Boris is about to do to his party. If the MPs manage to resist, he’ll carry on causing trouble for Sunak anyway, up to and including general election day. If – by some miracle – he does make the comeback, prime minister Johnson will be much as before. He is the Tories’ misfortune – and short of a privileges committee report so damming it leads to an early by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, he’s going to be a liability for the rest of this parliament and beyond.
You can’t keep a bad man down. Just as he saved his party in 2019, he is helping to smash it in 2024. He might make quite a good leader of the Tory opposition one day. It would suit him better.