Boris Johnson hangs on for a last shot at leadership

Boris Johnson hangs on for a last shot at leadership, by Robert Shrimsley.

Could 2019 finally be Boris Johnson’s year? It is a testimony to the former foreign secretary’s staying power that one can even ask this question. By any rational measure it should by now be possible to dismiss the clown prince of conservatism as one of those political adventurers whose charisma gave them a sight of the summit, but whose constitution was not cut out for the ascent.

Lightweight, narcissistic and apparently unenthused by the hard work of governing, Mr Johnson looks like a man who has been found out. And yet, remarkably, it is still too early to write him off. He may deserve to be dismissed but, in a field of stolid political performers, Mr Johnson cannot be discounted. He seems simply more vivid than the monochrome alternatives. Through opportunism, wit and sheer refusal to be marginalised, he enters the new year still in contention for the top job in British politics. Indeed, if it is ever to happen for him, it will almost certainly have to be in the next 12 months.

Most Tory MPs assume that Theresa May will be replaced as prime minister in the coming year, although this is not a given. The odds favour a change not least because 2019 is likely to bring the next stage of the Brexit negotiations — the one that will determine the future relationship with the EU — and there are too many MPs who do not wish to entrust this to Mrs May. This is Mr Johnson’s opportunity.

Once every non-Conservative’s favourite Tory, Mr Johnson has fallen low among his former metropolitan admirers. The decision to champion Brexit cost him dearly among liberal-minded Conservatives. …

The fate of the Conservative party is totally aligned with Brexit. The next leader needs to deliver on other issues — especially public services — but he or she will be judged on Brexit, and so must try to make a virtue of it. There is no doubt Mr Johnson’s championship of Brexit has made him a hate figure among Remainers but, in an increasingly polarised politics, that may be less of a problem than it once was. The game may be about solidifying the Tory vote.

A reader notes:

Perhaps the overriding issue is whether western ‘conservative’ parties will hold together at all, or fly apart as the right tries to extricate itself from the unsatisfactory “PC Lite” position the traditional conservative parties have held in recent years. In holding that position (May, Cameron, Turnbull), they have completely failed their constituency who have now, finally, figured out they’ve been shafted by them in favour of the globalist elite to which the likes of May, Cameron, and Turnbull belong.