Such Sweet Sorrow

27 October 2022

Such Sweet Sorrow

by Paul Branch

With all the focus now on the newly-crowned king Rishi, spare a thought for Boris Johnson left languishing in the shadows, still unkempt but apparently now also unwanted.  It was with an ebullient and indeed bullish Hasta la vista, baby that our last but one Prime Minister took his leave of the House of Commons not even two months ago.  He left to rapturous applause and a standing ovation from one side of the House, from those who had effectively sacked him.  On the other side there was silence, broken only by the faint sounds of handkerchiefs fluttering in a mocking farewell.  It’s difficult to think of a more divisive leader of our country, capable of polarising parliament and the population to such an abrasive extent, maybe not even Maggie Thatcher in her prime.  And now there are many again rejoicing and some that mourn at yet another parting of the ways, prefaced by a less than spectacular economy class return from the Dominican Republic to Gatwick, which must have left Carrie really impressed.

The trumpet sounded, Boris professed himself “up for it” (one tends to wonder when he wasn’t) and he was back among us, selflessly responding to the clarion call, working the telephones, taking soundings, making up the numbers to 102 (strangely for some reason including a proposer and a seconder), and then … phut!   Nothing.  Like a damp squib he blew himself out and withdrew from the most recent of our leadership beauty contests with as much dignity as he could muster.  His written explanation seemed founded on the premise that this was all for the unity of the party, and no doubt of the country and western civilisation in general.  The Boris of old would have given not a moment’s thought to such niceties but roared headlong to meet the challenge of hand-to-hand combat with Rishi,no doubt winning the casting vote of the faithful party membership. They do love a winner, and Boris had certainly delivered for them in 2019.   Much water and other nastier stuff has flowed under the bridge since then, but to some Boris still remains the pin-up boy whose every false step and even somewhat darker progress can be forgiven in view of his appeal – his character, his humour, his way of getting things done.  But of course an ever-increasing number see him somewhat differently.

That his parting statement contained nearly thirty uses of the personal pronoun and precious few references to national interest was much more in keeping with the Boris we’d grown accustomed to.  His assertion that this was not the time for his return was about as accurate as it could get, but of course there’s the implication that there will be another, more favourable opportunity at some unspecified point in the future.  Some would argue that point might be reached in concert with the arrival of an ice age in Hell (if climate change principles apply there as well), but then Boris has been nothing if not an unshakeable optimist.  One does suspect that his claim of over 100 supporters was about double the actual number, although he’s not been known to be great on detail, and of course he just might have been a little lax with the truth.  And by not actually submitting his name for election he didn’t actually lose.

So what will he do next?   Will Rishi offer him a ministerial post as a sop to the past, a defence for the present (it’s difficult picturing Boris as a docile back bencher, at the beck and call of the Whips), and some sort of insurance against the possible downturns of the future?   Not Foreign Secretary again, surely.   Needs a bit more attention to detail than Boris can muster – as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe could testify.  Business minister then, with an emphasis on working out how to make the most of Brexit, always assuming we can negotiate ourselves out of the Northern Ireland conundrum.  Or even Secretary for Northern Ireland, to help with the negotiations … But sadly his aggressiveness in previous discussions with the EU, and the distinct lack of respect and trust that produced, would maybe rule out that role.  Minister with special responsibility for avoiding cataclysmic climate change then?  Not quite his forte, given the lack of consideration Boris has given the topic up to now, especially with his support for resurrecting fossil fuels even before the current energy crisis erupted.  Home Secretary?   Perhaps a bit of a problem with recent run-ins with the police and his Partygate fine.

Let’s look at his parliamentary qualifications for a top ministerial job, and what better source than his old mucker and sycophant supreme Jacob Rees-Mogg (now also ex-Business minister) who confidently assured us that, obviously, Boris would be back.  Helpfully JRM listed the Johnson achievements as PM, which would undoubtedly look good on any application for a lesser post.  He got Brexit done; he got us through the pandemic; after the Russian invasion he was the first statesman to visit Ukraine (where he is adored) and led the way in providing support; he won a thumping majority at the 2019 general election …. and he won the Hartlepool by-election last year to put another blue brick in the Conservative Northern wall.

Sounds pretty impressive.  But take out the last two as these are essentially Tory domestic business – very important it’s true, but let’s focus on national interest.  As regards Ukraine, we have indeed sent a lot of armaments to help them out in accordance with NATO strategy, as have others, especially the US, but the refugee immigration process was slow to get underway, and visits to Kyiv seemed to coincide with the chance of a photo opportunity whenever the heat in the Westminster kitchen was getting too uncomfortable (makes a change from an industrial fridge though).  His performance in the pandemic is at long last under formal public scrutiny, but Boris did get our impressive vaccination programme going although that’s scant consolation for the friends and family of all those who died.  Plus the decline of the NHS continues apace.  And yes, the Brexit deal was signed as Boris promised, but my goodness is the reality of taking back our sovereignty yet anything like what was promised?

Not looking too promising for a continued career in Parliament then … a by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip seems on the cards, although no rush as all the allowances and benefits of being an ex-PM should tide him over for a while yet.  Back working with old best mate Dominic Cummins doesn’t sound too likely as Dom’s focus on technological innovation would be something of a challenge.  Journalism of course was his original role in life, and scholarly author, but these seem too much like hard work.  Writing an autobiography would be a good way to get back into private life – good mix of his favourite topic and the probability of a massive advance.  And of course the money-laden celebrity speaker circuit, at home if necessary but preferably abroad to catch a little more sunshine.

So that may well be it.  The source of his Hasta la vista from last time, a quote from “Terminator 2 – Judgment Day”, appears totally appropriate:  he has been judged, again, and still found wanting.  As the sun sets on a flamboyant political career, finally it looks like Adios Boris.   

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