When Boris Johnson bellowed “Hasta la vista baby!” at the end of his final prime minister’s questions in July, how many realised it was no empty flourish but rather a statement of intent? His unspecified “mission” was, he told those who were listening carefully, “largely accomplished for now”. We were treated to one more Johnsonian jape – the taxpayer-funded self-promotion exercise in an RAF Typhoon fighter jet – but thereafter the blond titan of British politics subsided into relative and unfamiliar obscurity.
No doubt the crowd of American insurers who gave him a standing ovation the other day and a $150,000 cheque were a rollicking lot, but with all due respect to them Johnson will have been privately thinking: Is this really it? Even worse surely was the fact that no one bothered to mention his name as one of the 31 Conservative MPs who abstained on Ed Miliband’s fracking amendment last week. Boris who? Politics now moves at breakneck speed, particularly when someone even more incompetent is busy wrecking the nation.
Can there have ever been a more depressing period for a man who genuinely considers himself the cleverest person on the planet? Someone who is as reliant on attention as Dracula was on blood? Who thought his ejection from Downing Street the “eccentric” work of the deluded and ungrateful? Who was incensed by the fact that he hadn’t simply got away with it yet again? But that was before the lettuce won over Liz Truss and she resigned in a firestorm of market damnation, a national humiliation that will have been of immense personal cheer to Johnson on his sunlounger in the Dominican Republic. Perhaps the plan of backing an obvious loser was going to work out after all – if rather more spectacularly than expected.
As he flew back economy overnight on Friday with his wife Carrie and two of his children, many if not all of the usual suspects such as Jacob Rees-Mogg (with new hashtag #BorisorBust) declared their enthusiastic support for his return. The Boris bots came out in force on social media, theExpresssplashed its front page with “Boris: I’m up for it … We are going to do this” and Conservative commentators declared themselves astonished at the numbers rallying behind a disgraced former prime minister after an absence of only 44 days.
Johnson and those he regards as his “stooges” had prepared well for his touchdown at Gatwick. Well in terms of his own projection, that is, rather than seemingly having a carefully detailed plan on how to get us out of the mess he played such a big part in creating. Whether he succeeds or not in returning to No 10 one ambition has already been realised. We are all talking – and writing – about Boris Johnson again.
As a nation we have apparently been ordained to satisfy Johnson’s monumental craving for adulation since childhood when his father philandered while his mother descended into mental despair. Even his love of money comes second to an aching need for the spotlight – it’s probably safe to assume that it was not Johnson who yearned for gold wallpaper or drinks trollies – although often one follows the other.
In return, however, he has precious little to offer. Many of those who have worked closely with Johnson come away astonished at his lack of his own ideas or interest in the ideas of others – a character trait that should exclude him from the race now if not ever. When talk is turning to the so-called “dullness dividend” – the value of a quietly competent figure at the wheel – Johnsonian boosterism looks distinctly old-fashioned. Deep down he probably knows he is not up to the job. Johnson is a damaged and unstable figure. The tragedy is that he sees the office of prime minister as a means of fulfilling his needs rather than those of the country.