LONDON — Less than three weeks after announcing his resignation, and with rumors already swirling that he was planning a return, scandal-scarred British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has received the kind of self-care advice best delivered by a family member.
“If you ask me,” Rachel Johnson, the Prime Minister’s sister, said recently on LBC Radiowhere she hosts a talk show, “I’d like to see my brother rest and write and paint and just regroup and just, you know, see what happens.”
Not much luck for that.
Still as caretaker Prime Minister, Mr Johnson has barely retreated to the background. He recently landed in a fighter planethen on a military base where he threw a hand grenade, used a machine gun and held a rocket launcher during a training exercise with Ukrainian troops.
And in his final appearance in Parliament as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson’s verdict on his tumultuous three years in Downing Street was ‘mission largely accomplished – for now’, before signing off in words from a film “Terminator”: “Hasta la vista, baby.”
Still, as a fan of the Terminator franchise, Mr Johnson knows the aftermath.
“He’s not the kind of person who gives up and goes off to live a quiet life in a nice house in the country and does a good job for the local church,” said Andrew Gimson, who will soon be posting a second volume of his biography. of Mr. Johnson.
“You don’t really get to the top unless you’re abnormally competitive enough already, so it would be very amazing if he just crumbled into private life.”
Boris Johnson’s downfall, explained
Unrest in Downing Street. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will step down less than three years after a landslide election victory, following a series of scandals that have ensnared his government. Here is what led to this:
While a return to Downing Street is unlikely, Mr Johnson, with his outsized political profile, knows how to keep his name in the headlines. This may not be good news for his successor.
Writing in The Times of London, William Hague, a former Tory leader, warned of the potential for Mr Johnson to articulate “a bundle of resentment, denial, attention-seeking and attempted justification that will a permanent nightmare for the new Prime Minister”. .”
Downing Street says nothing publicly about Mr Johnson’s future although his allies reject Mr Hague’s comments. They expect Mr Johnson to stay in Parliament and speak out on any watering down of his strong commitment to Ukraine, any significant Brexit changes or a reversal of his still-unclear plan to ‘rise’ the prosperity of neglected regions.
Despite the scandals that led to his resignation, he retains a strong coterie of supporters in the right-wing media and among his party members who will elect the new leader. Supporters of Ms Truss have tried to exploit that loyalty and have accused Mr Sunak – whose resignation sparked the erosion of Mr Johnson’s job security – of betraying the Prime Minister. A cabinet minister, Nadine Dorries, recently retweeted an image of Mr Sunak in the pose of Brutus about to stab Julius Caesar in the back.
And a seemingly doomed campaign to keep Mr Johnson in Downing Street via a petition, signed by thousands of Conservative Party members, is helping validate his theory – put forward when he announced his resignation – that his lawmakers acted irrationally in forcing the man who brought them victory in 2019.
“As we saw at Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves,” Mr Johnson said in his resignation speech, suggesting his Tory colleagues in Parliament were simply succumbing to the political survival instinct to follow the crowd. .
Mr Johnson has expressed very little remorse or self-reflection over the mostly self-inflicted injuries that led to his downfall.
Robert Ford, a political science professor at the University of Manchester, said the Prime Minister may have believed in his heart that it was possible for him to one day return to Downing Street because he had already defied the odds.
“All his political life he believed he was someone special, that he could achieve things that others couldn’t and that he was someone to whom the normal rules did not apply. not,” he said, noting Mr Johnson’s many comebacks after previous setbacks.
Professor Ford said comparisons with former President Donald J. Trump are inaccurate because Mr Johnson ultimately accepted the process that ousted him.
“But where the analogy with Trump applies is: firstly, Boris Johnson rejects the idea that everything that happened this year is his fault; and secondly in his very intense desire to have the spotlight on him again,” Prof Ford said.
All remaining political ambitions aside, Mr Johnson has no shortage of options for earning a living. He has a biography of William Shakespeare to complete, the prospect of lucrative appearances on the international lecture circuit and even, potentially, the lure of journalism. (He is a former Daily Telegraph columnist).
If he is to remain a political force, Mr Johnson’s first task will be to retain his seat in Parliament.
The political situation in Great Britain
After being ensnared in various scandals, Boris Johnson has declared he will step down as British Prime Minister, paving the way for a new leadership race in the Conservative Party.
A committee is investigating whether he misled lawmakers over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and, if it turns out badly for Mr Johnson, he may have to fight an election to keep his seat later this year.
It is also uncertain whether he would take his seat in the next general election unless fortunes improve for his Tories, so there is speculation he may seek a safer district.
As for a possible return to Downing Street, Mr Gimson said that “Mr Johnson’s greatest chance of returning is if the nation is in dire straits and he is seen as the only figure big enough and bold enough to deal with it.” .”
Some previous prime ministers have made a comeback, including Winston Churchill, Mr Johnson’s political hero.
But Mr Johnson’s task would be more difficult because, unlike Churchill, he lost the leadership of the Conservative Party, and would have to win it back before any second attempt at Downing Street. It seems unlikely that conservative lawmakers want to risk a repeat of his chaotic administration.
In any event, Prof Ford said, with a platform ready in the right-wing media, Mr Johnson is more likely to enjoy unrest than play the supportive statesman.
‘He doesn’t accept personal responsibility for his ousting and he doesn’t think he should have left,’ Prof Ford said. “He thinks he has a mandate from the people and a special electoral appeal that his colleagues cannot replicate.”
And the question remains: Deep down, does Mr Johnson – who has a long history of being struck off only to refute his doubters – recognize that this time it’s all really over?
“I doubt it,” said Mr. Gimson, his biographer, “I think he accepted his absence in the short term. But it’s short term, and he’s an optimist by nature.