The secret of many British Conservatives, especially those who like to hang out in London’s select “gentlemen only” clubs in Pall Mall and St. James’s, is that they love it when their eccentricities turn them into the laughing stock of the world. And Boris Johnson guaranteed laughter on the Tory bench even during the most depressing moments of his term in office. At least a third of the party’s members - it remains to be seen whether it will also be a third of MPs - yearns for the return of the most popular politician the United Kingdom has seen in recent decades. The only one who has achieved such a degree of intimacy with the electorate - although intimacy can also breed contempt - that everyone calls him by his first name.
The idea of Johnson’s comeback has stimulated the adrenaline of right-wing populist tabloids. The same news outlets that worked hard for Liz Truss to be chosen over Rishi Sunak - the Brutus in this Shakespearean tragicomedy who was accused of stabbing Johnson in the back - have not hesitated to skin her alive over the past weeks. “BoJo: I´ll be Back,” proclaimed The Sun on Friday in Terminator-like fashion, recalling how the politician said goodbye in the House of Commons. “Boris v Rishi: Fight for Soul of The Tories,” trumpeted the Daily Mail, salivating at the idea of this final battle between Johnson and the minister who betrayed him, and who is currently the favorite in the parliamentary group. “He Couldn´t, Could he... Will Boris Bounce?” asked the Daily Express, barely able to conceal its enthusiasm.
Memory, in politics, is necessarily short-term. Those who most quickly forget the immediate past tend to survive. For this reason, not only Johnson’s allies, who have already thrown themselves into the battle of resurrection, but also many other Conservative MPs have begun to reminisce about Johnson’s extraordinary ability to campaign and win elections; his irredeemable optimism in the face of adversity, or his ability to get out of the most embarrassing situations with a timely buffoonery. But above all, they remember his ability to always use Brexit as an insurmountable weapon of internal cohesion. With Boris, the endless tension between London and Brussels was always a work in progress, a recurring script that didn’t need to be filled with content. Johnson was the content. That is why, when the Eurosceptic flag was picked up by Liz Truss, everything became uglier. Less fun.
It doesn’t matter if the end of Johnson’s term was unpleasant and painful, or that more than 70 government officials stepped down in a cascade of resignations to flee the scandal and indignity in which that Camelot of entanglements, betrayals, and wild parties in Downing Street had been plunged during the Covid confinement. Nostalgics look at the polls, and note that in the worst moments of the Johnson era, the opposition Labour Party only led the Conservatives by nine points. At the present moment, that advantage exceeds 30 points. And those nostalgics think that the resurrection of their candidate could maybe turn that tragedy around. They fail to understand that the present situation is a consequence of the immediate past. The extreme drift that Truss initiated during her brief term is a result of the rage of the Conservatives’ right wing, which chose the abyss rather than give the slightest advantage to those who had caused its leader’s downfall. And in the midst of a massive cost-of-living crisis, the British are not in the mood for jokes.
There is another, much better-known secret: Johnson is only loyal to himself. From the Dominican Republic, where he is whiling away the time while his faithful followers proclaim his return, he has begun to consider whether he has a chance of succeeding. It would be enough for him to secure second spot in the vote that will take place within the parliamentary group. If he manages to reach the final duel against Sunak, his chances of winning will be very high. And the elephant that disappeared from the room last July will return to the spotlight that it never quite gave up on.