The Daily Telegraph

‘Sad’ Johnson to shun Tory party conference as he plans next move

Ousted leader will use final speech as PM to call for colleagues to get behind winner of contest

- By Ben Riley-smith

BORIS JOHNSON is expected to skip the Conservati­ve Party’s annual conference next month as he maintains a low profile in the weeks after his departure from Downing Street.

Friends and colleagues of Mr Johnson say he is sad and taken aback by his ousting from office less than three years after he won an 80-seat majority in the December 2019 election.

He is expected to eschew making high-profile political interventi­ons to focus on the lucrative speaking circuit and writing his memoirs after he resigns. But he will issue a call for the party to unite behind his successor as Tory leader in his farewell speech outside No10 tomorrow, according to allies.

A peer and friend of the Prime Minister yesterday said Mr Johnson would spend time trying to “get hay in the loft” – a reference to making money – and “keep out of public life for a bit”.

Should Mr Johnson decide not to attend the party conference in Birmingham, from Oct 2 to Oct 5, he would be replicatin­g the behaviour of predecesso­rs. David Cameron and Theresa May declined to attend conference­s immediatel­y after they were forced from office in 2017 and 2019, respective­ly.

But Mr Johnson’s absence would have extra significan­ce, given that for so long he was the darling of such events and they helped fuel his rise to the top of British politics.

When he was London’s mayor, Mr Johnson was often a thorn in Mr Cameron’s side as he courted popularity and regularly offered hints of a leadership run at party conference­s.

He told a Downing Street ally over the weekend that he had yet to complete writing his final address as Prime Minister. But it appears that in it Mr Johnson will stress the theme of unity and the need to get behind whoever wins the Tory leadership contest.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, is widely expected to beat Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, when the result is announced shortly after noon today.

Mr Johnson was privately said by allies to be more supportive of Ms Truss’s candidacy than that of Mr Sunak, whose resignatio­n triggered the spate of ministeria­l departures that toppled the Prime Minister. A No 10 source said of Mr Johnson’s farewell speech: “He will call for unity and urge the party to give Liz a chance [if she wins].

“He feels he owes it to say ‘whatever I feel has been done to me, give Liz a chance’. We can’t tear ourselves apart repeatedly.”

A final call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, is due to take place today, building on what has become a close working relationsh­ip between the two men.

Mr Johnson’s allies continue to rage at the terms of the on-going Privileges Committee inquiry into whether he misled Parliament over lockdownbr­eaking parties in Downing Street.

Should the Prime Minister be suspended for 10 days, he could face a recall petition by his constituen­ts in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, threatenin­g his plans to remain an MP.

It remains unclear whether Mr Johnson would stand again for re-election at the next general election, due by 2024, or indeed remain in Parliament until then. Mr Cameron and Sir Tony Blair quit the Commons shortly after stepping down as prime minister, though Mrs May has chosen to stay on as an MP.

A return to writing for Mr Johnson beckons, and his long-overdue book on Shakespear­e and his memoirs are sure to trigger a bidding war among publishing houses.

Making lucrative speeches is also expected, possibly organised via the high-profile US agents Washington Speakers Bureau.

Lord Marland, a Tory peer and an old friend of Mr Johnson, gave an indication of what life could hold in the near future for the departing Prime Minister during an interview with radio station LBC yesterday.

He said Mr Johnson wanted to “get hay in the loft”, which the peer translated as “go and make some money to repair his own balance sheet”.

The peer went on: “As prime minister you earn so little money and, as has been well documented, I think, he’s got a few children and a few ex-wives.

“So there’s quite a big bill payroll that he has to satisfy.”

Lord Marland added: “I think he’ll be in huge demand throughout the world as a speaker because he’s just got unbelievab­le speaking skills.

“He’s a writer, obviously, so he will doubtless go back to that. I think he will largely try and keep out of public life for a bit.”

Today the Tories elect a new leader and say goodbye to an old one. Boris Johnson has dominated British politics since at least 2016: he is Mr Brexit. During the referendum, he used his unique combinatio­n of humour, reason and passion to persuade the British people to have the courage of their conviction­s and vote to leave the European Union.

After winning that battle, the Conservati­ves came perilously close to losing the war. Theresa May’s 2017 election gamble destroyed the party’s majority; Brexit was deemed impossible to effect; and we faced the threat of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. The Tories should never forget that Mr Johnson saved their bacon. Voted leader in July 2019, he renegotiat­ed withdrawal and gambled everything on an election that proved historic.

The Conservati­ves won their best result since 1987; Labour, its worst since 1935. Mr Johnson attracted working-class voters who had backed socialists for generation­s, drawn by a promise to “get Brexit done”, no doubt, but also by the man himself. The PM “cut through” in a way no politician had done since Blair or Thatcher.

Critics on the Right of the Conservati­ve Party quickly perceived that this might be a problem – that by broadening the party’s coalition he now had to satisfy constituen­cies that wanted spending hikes before tax cuts, and that believing he alone had won this majority, Mr Johnson was disincline­d to listen to Tory MPS with a more traditiona­l point of view.

This was the basis for the creation of a more presidenti­al-style of government that moved Conservati­sm Leftwards and abandoned some of the free-market dynamism that Brexit should have been about.

The alternativ­e interpreta­tion is that Mr Johnson was simply blown off course by events. Within weeks of Britain celebratin­g its withdrawal from the EU, Covid arrived and the country went into lockdown. Opponents of the strategy believed it was authoritar­ian and, in the long run, might do greater damage than the disease itself.

But Mr Johnson’s personal leadership was undeniably authoritat­ive and, when he caught the disease itself, very human. He followed his instincts and allowed public and private to work together to roll-out an approved Covid vaccine – a world leader in authorisat­ion – and he insisted upon opening Britain up sooner than overcautio­us experts, unions or Labour wanted. He created a new consensus around learning to live with the disease.

But now he had to deal with the fallout of lockdown – including closed schools and delayed operations – at the same time as Russia invaded Ukraine. The resulting energy crisis threatens our way of life, and it has not been helped by the net zero strategy Mr Johnson so doggedly promoted.

Historians, again, will debate if the decision to raise taxes to bail out the NHS was an inevitable consequenc­e of the Prime Minister’s Red Wall politics, or if – as his supporters insist – it was foisted on him by the Treasury, but what is clear that just as the Government drifted from sound Conservati­ve principles, so it lost its discipline and coherence and, gradually, its base of support.

Mr Johnson was engulfed in scandal; his own ministers decided to drop him. Many voters will never forgive him for partygate or the Chris Pincher affair; many of his supporters felt he squandered his exceptiona­l talents.

But even in his darkest hour, he still managed to offer moral leadership on Ukraine, uniting the West against Vladimir Putin. Kyiv, at least, will be very sad to see him go.

It will be hard to imagine British politics without him, and the next prime minister is going to have to fill a large Johnson-sized void. Even if its various controvers­ies will radiate for years to come, the Tories should not repudiate what he initially stood for. On the contrary, a fine ambition would be to complete the project that Mr Johnson started in 2016-19 – to fulfil the promise of Brexit as most voters understood it before events, or bad judgment, misdirecte­d the country.

That means cut red tape, expand trade, level-up by unleashing the market in left-behind communitie­s, reduce taxes, shrink the state, control immigratio­n and free us from the planners, bureaucrat­s and self-appointed experts who treat voters like children. In short, to take back control.

 ?? ?? ESTABLISHE­D 1855

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom