I am besieged by media folk asking when I shall make good on a four-year-old threat to flee to Buenos Aires should Boris Johnson become prime minister. How can I get on to a flight, I ask, when so many other voters are already waitlisted? In truth, however, we are being served successive courses in a national banquet of self-harm, too grisly to merit jokes. Nobody should blame Johnson for wanting to be prime minister: many unsuitable people do. But there will be infinite historical curiosity about how the Tory parliamentary party could scramble to deliver Britain into the custody of a man whom few of its members would entrust with their wallet, handbag or spouse, save to secure a cabinet seat.
A year or so back, I asked a sensible MP what could stop BoJo becoming prime minister, granted his mile-high profile. My companion answered: ‘Nobody in the House likes him.’ Beneath the veneer of Johnsonian geniality, colleagues recognise the egomania that precludes concern for the interests of any human being save himself. Yet now those same Tories seem poised to hand him Downing Street; Brexit; the nuclear deterrent; power to fulfil his promises to raise spending, cut taxes, and give Johnny Foreigner a damn good thrashing.
Jeremy Corbyn provides most of the explanation, together with the absence of star quality in any leadership rival save Rory Stewart. Boris is thought to have a popular appeal transcending age and class, unimpaired by his refusal to disclose how many children he has. He is among the wittiest and most brilliant performers of the age, a conjurer who finds words to please any audience, heedless of their distance from truth or reality; who does feel-good like no other contemporary politician: Boris would have assured Titanic passengers that rescue was imminent, even as water lapped the boat deck. A female fan said on the radio recently: ‘He will make politics fun.’ She could be right. In an era when Britain esteems comedians more highly than footballers, it may be appropriate for us to be governed by a prime minister who will attend state banquets in cap and bells, rather than white tie. But not even the Corbyn peril can blackmail my kind of one-nationer into voting for a government headed by Johnson, endorsed by Donald Trump and bear-led by the European Reform Group.
This article is an extract from Max Hasting’s Spectator Diary, available in this week’s magazine.
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