Boris’s final days in No. 10

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

‘So what did he say?’ I asked the ministerial friend who went to tell Boris last week he had to resign. ‘Well, he told me a long story about a relative of his who got caught up in a planning dispute, barricaded himself inside his house and the police had to come in force to drag him out. I think it means he’s not going quietly.’ At one level, politics is unpredictable; but enduring political rules apply. Boris told me years ago that while he wasn’t a team player, he could be a good team leader. For all his infectious optimism, it turns out that’s not possible.

Downing Street will feel like being at a wake. Hushed voices. No one wanting to upset the family. Mourning the power that has recently departed. Perhaps a drink or two. I remember that weird fortnight when David Cameron had resigned but not gone. At one point a room on the first floor filled up with dozens of strange objects – an engraved hunting horn; a palm tree made of gold; a book signed by JFK. Gifts to the prime minister from six years of G20 summits and state visits. Like the conveyor belt in the Generation Game, David had to pick the ones he wanted to take with him – and pay for them out of his own pocket, since they were government property. The days were spent taking commiseration calls from foreign leaders, fending off supplicants for the resignation honours – and, with our old homes rented out, working out where on earth we were going to live. I ended up at my parents’ house. That’s politics: No. 11 one day; the spare room the next. On arrival, there were lots of police with machine-guns guarding the street. I thought: that’s a bit over the top. Then I worked it out. I called David. ‘Where are you staying?’ ‘At a friend’s house a couple of doors away from your parents.’ The Notting Hill set had come home. The next day we had breakfast in the Lisboa café and a newspaper splashed the photo under the headline ‘From world leaders to ordinary geezers’. I doubt Boris will be having a coffee with any of his three chancellors.

Rishi Sunak’s name must come up quite a bit these days in No. 10. Followed by an expletive. He’s carrying the baggage of past decisions, he helped wield the knife and he’s the favourite – that is supposed to count against you in a Tory leadership contest. But then he showed courage in the crucial hour, refuses to promise people specific jobs and won’t engage in the ludicrous Dutch auction of unfunded tax commitments – all things you’d do if you thought you might actually have to govern after this is all over. As someone who worked on three leadership campaigns, ran one and stood in none, I admire all those who have put themselves forward. I’m glad that years ago we modernisers intervened to stop Liz Truss being deselected from her Norfolk seat by local reactionaries known as the Turnip Taliban. Someone needed to carry the flame for smaller-state conservatism during the high-spending red-tape Brexit years. As just an ordinary party member, Liz vs Rishi on the final ballot paper looks like a good choice to me.

I had never been to Glastonbury before. But we’ve got a home nearby so we thought: why not? One concern was that the crowd wouldn’t warm to me in the same way they did to Jeremy Corbyn. So I covered up – sunglasses and a baseball cap – and kept them on even after dark. I couldn’t see much but I loved it. Supertramp. Billie Eilish. Macca and Springstein. A feast of entertainment and a feat of organisation. The disguise didn’t work. ‘Hello George,’ said quite a few. One couple made me buy them a round of drinks as a payback for all the taxes I’d taken off them. Everyone was friendly. I was pleasantly puzzled, and then I looked around the nice middle-aged, middle-class audience swaying their hands to ‘Hey Jude’ and realised: they’re only Lib Dems at the weekend.

To another festival, this time in Aldeburgh. While looking around the Red House that Benjamin Britten shared with his partner Peter Pears, I discovered that their wonderful legacy faces a challenge. The copyright on Britten’s works will start to expire over the next decade, and with it the money used to support young classical musicians looking for a break. So here’s a solution. Do what parliament did with Peter Pan, whose royalties support Great Ormond Street hospital, and grant the rights in perpetuity to the Britten-Pears charity. Now would be a good time for all of Suffolk’s Tory MPs to club together and extract a promise from the next prime minister, before he or she faces their eventual and inevitable requiem.

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