The Scottish Mail on Sunday

He was stung be­fore, but waspish Boris still craves top job


BORIS JOHN­SON once said: ‘All politi­cians are like crazed wasps in a jam jar, each in­di­vid­u­ally con­vinced that they’re go­ing to make it.’ And no one has been more con­vinced he is go­ing to make it all the way to No10 than John­son him­self. He has long con­sid­ered him­self a Prime-Min­is­ter-in-wait­ing, but has been obliged to wait far longer than he hoped.

For 11 years, he watched as the Tory Party was led by David Cameron, whom at Eton and Ox­ford Boris had viewed as an ob­scure and ju­nior fig­ure. He has now had to wait another year while the party was led by Theresa May, who hu­mil­i­ated him dur­ing the race for the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship by ridi­cul­ing his abil­i­ties as a ne­go­tia­tor: ‘The last time he did a deal with the Ger­mans he came back with three nearly new wa­ter can­non.’

Well, the wait­ing may fi­nally be over. At last the longed-for role of leader lies within his grasp. May is fa­tally wounded. Af­ter her wooden per­for­mance through­out the Elec­tion cam­paign, the Tories will never again con­sent to fight an elec­tion un­der her lead­er­ship. And the par­lia­men­tary arith­metic now makes a re­turn to the polls within the next year more or less cer­tain. As to­day’s poll for this pa­per shows, a ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic want May to go now, and John­son is their pre­ferred choice to suc­ceed her.

This, then, should be John­son’s mo­ment. But, as he well knows, the as­sas­sin in th­ese cases sel­dom goes on to wear the crown. Michael He­sel­tine brought down Mar­garet Thatcher, but in the sub­se­quent lead­er­ship con­test was trounced by the less glam­orous John Ma­jor. For all his un­doubted charisma and pop­u­lar­ity, there is a dan­ger John­son could be thwarted once again, just as he was in the race to suc­ceed Cameron.

John­son’s worst weak­ness is that many Tory MPs do not trust him. The sham­bles of his last lead­er­ship cam­paign, when he was knifed by Michael Gove, did not in­spire con­fi­dence. On that oc­ca­sion, he was quick-wit­ted enough to throw in the towel rather than fight on to in­evitable de­feat. May duly re­warded him for his sur­ren­der by putting him in the For­eign Of­fice.

Here he has had mixed suc­cess – on the one hand tak­ing a strong moral stance over Syr­ian leader Bashar As­sad’s gassing of his peo­ple, on the other be­ing hu­mil­i­ated when he was pre­vented from trav­el­ling to meet G7 lead­ers with a plan to im­pose greater sanc­tions on As­sad’s Rus­sian ally. John­son was re­port­edly so fear­ful of be­ing ‘toast’ that he went to No10 to beg for his job.

The Elec­tion cam­paign brought him lit­tle suc­cour. It con­tained no role for John­son. It was all about Theresa May’s ‘strong and sta­ble lead­er­ship’, a con­cept he will have re­garded with in­ward de­ri­sion, and which

many vot­ers found un­con­vinc­ing and dreary. Mean­while Jeremy Cor­byn had a good cam­paign, and gained 32 seats by ap­pear­ing rel­a­tively re­laxed, hu­mane and gen­uine. How John­son will have longed to take on the man he branded a ‘mut­ton-headed old mug­wump’.

Thurs­day’s re­sult has now opened up that op­por­tu­nity. Could John­son be the man to save the Tories in their hour of des­per­a­tion? Cer­tainly, he re­mains one of the few front-rank politi­cians who can change the at­mos­phere just by turn­ing up to the lo­cal shop­ping cen­tre. Cor­byn, we must con­cede, ap­pears to be another.

But, his crit­ics point out, there is far more to be­ing leader than elec­tion­eer­ing. There is Europe, the is­sue on which so many Tory lead­ers have im­paled them­selves. May made it her prac­tice to de­cide her pol­icy on ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing Europe, with a tiny group of trusted ad­vis­ers. The next Tory leader, who­ever he or she may be, will have to do things dif­fer­ently. On Brexit, there will have to be both con­sul­ta­tion and lis­ten­ing, as well as, ul­ti­mately, lead­er­ship. There would be a kind of po­etic jus­tice in putting this most dif­fi­cult of tasks in the hands of Boris, the man who did more than any­one else to swing the Leave vote.

It would be more po­etic still if, for this mo­men­tous task, he was able to se­cure the as­sis­tance of Michael Gove, whose ap­pear­ances on the air­waves through­out the elec­tion re­minded peo­ple just how bril­liantly he can make the Tory case.

Such a pact would be an as­ton­sh­ing act of for­give­ness af­ter Gove’s be­trayal last year.

Not the least of John­son’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions is his proven abil­ity to take wider views about Brexit, rather than get im­pris­oned in some self-in­flicted or­tho­doxy.

Can he pull it off? The days ahead will prove whether his wait is fi­nally at an end.

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