Even in Australian publications of a conspicuously conservative disposition, it has been some time since any respected pundit has suggested, with the hope of being taken seriously, that it might be a good idea to give Tony Abbott another crack at the job of Prime Minister. You can imagine my surprise, then, to hear just such a journalist devoting fifteen minutes of his high-rating evening news review slot to dusting off and spruiking Abbott’s leadership credentials. And if you’re wondering why this is the first you’ve heard of it, and why the journalist in question has not since been publicly hounded off most Australian social media platforms and made the butt of excoriating scorn on the ABC, don’t. Because the journalist in question was the Canadian Mark Steyn, and the network he appears on is GB News, and the country whose leadership Steyn thinks might be gainfully entrusted to the former member for Warringah is the United Kingdom. The six weeks I have been marooned here — my filial obligation visit having been greatly extended by testing positive to Omicron two weeks into it — has been long enough to learn that while Mr Abbott might be long past his sell-by date with a NSW electorate, to a large number of Brits his nomination as a possible successor to Boris Johnson makes perfect sense. There is nothing new about an Australian Liberal PM commanding Pommy respect, of course; the sheer persistence of John Howard’s leadership earned him much the same sort of reverence that is retrospectively accorded to Margaret Thatcher. But while Tony Abbott’s time in office was a comparative blink of an eye, his policy successes are seen as far more relevant to contemporary Britain than anything Mr Howard did. And none more so than his initiatives on border control and national security. Despite it being well over a year since the UK ceased technically to be a member of the EU, huge numbers of illegal immigrants continue to run the gauntlet of the English Channel on a daily basis, some drowning in the process, many effectively assisted by the British and French navies, and many more becoming perpetual burdens on the state. It is Boris’s failure to address this core Brexit issue — to stop the boats, as we might say — which, more than his hypocrisy over partygate, is causing so many of the Tory faithful to look around for a replacement. And the relatively high profile that Mr Abbott has enjoyed here since he was appointed as advisor to the UK government on the development of post-Brexit trade relations means that they – or at least Mark Steyn – didn’t have to look far to see him. Indeed, in 2020 it was Mr Abbot’s track record on trade policy and his economic successes in Asia, more than his immigration policies, which made him an obvious candidate for his present role. And if the idea of a former Australian prime minister in Downing Street seems fanciful, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not without constitutional precedent. Bonar Law, who succeeded Lloyd George as leader of the Conservative party and was elected prime minister in 1922, was born and raised in New Brunswick, Canada.
It is just as well for Boris Johnson that Britain does not require its elected leaders to be sons of the soil, because despite his posh accent and Etonian education, he was actually born in New York City. Which means, of course, that even if he is forced to step down in the next few days or weeks, he may not be obliged to follow Mrs Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May into the hinterland of ex-officio obscurity. Boris, we should remember, has completely reinvented himself three times since he was the editor of this magazine. But this time could be the mother of all career-changes. He and Carrie could cash in their Virgin Atlantic flier miles and relocate to Manhattan, Florida, or even Washington, where Boris would have just enough time to launch himself as a more likeable GOP alternative to Donald Trump in time for the 2024 presidential election. The political equivalent, if you like, of doing a Harry and Meghan.
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