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Thatcher's downfall has a lesson for Boris's enemies

7 July 2022

3:34 AM

7 July 2022

3:34 AM

Few leaders could be as different in character as Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson, but one can compare their predicaments when colleagues turned on them.

Both had large parliamentary majorities and were never defeated in any election they led, yet both faced internal coups. In both cases, there were/are good reasons why colleagues were fed up with their leaders. What was true in Mrs Thatcher’s case, however, and may well apply in Boris’s if he does go, is that her political assassination caused remorse, and immense, lasting division. As John Major understood and Michael Heseltine did not foresee, remorseful MPs tend to turn on the chief assassin and favour, almost paradoxically, the successor candidate who seems loyal to the ousted leader. If that logic works this time, Rishi Sunak (and the less likely Sajid Javid) will find it hard to win.

As for division, it will be said that it was very strange to evict a prime minister because of what he did or did not know about the predilections of a deputy chief whip, when the world order and the world economy are tottering and people face frightening inflation at home. They will also see a forced Johnson departure as confirmation that Remainers, whatever the voters decided, still have the power behind the scenes. Much trouble ahead.

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