Sunday 10 March 2024

Rumours of Another Johnson Comeback

With the Tories staring down the barrel of certain doom, everything they do has an air of unreality about it. Rishi Sunak taking to the steps of Downing Street to denounce George Galloway's election. Jeremy Hunt dishing out tax cuts for the better off as the state continues to crumble. And now the latest Tory story: hopes of a Boris Johnson comeback.

According to the Mail on Sunday, senior Tories alarmed by catastrophic polling are "plotting to replace" Sunak with the former Prime Minister. This is based on private surveys commissioned by Judith McAlpine, which suggests only Johnson can save the Tories from total devastation. She was able to get 50 MPs at a private meeting where the results were unveiled. It's worth noting that nowhere does the article suggest the Tories are in with a chance of winning: they are faced with a choice of bumping around with 200 or so MPs with Johnson and far fewer with Sunak.

How likely is a comeback? Even more meagre than the last one. The piece excitedly talks of getting Johnson back into the Commons as if it's a minor trifle. McAlpine is influential in Henley, which would be the favoured seat, and the current party candidate is an ally. But assuming she was to stand aside to let the boorish bombshell have another crack that won't get him into the Commons before the election. So a bit of a flaw in the plan. And there are more. As Sunder rightly notes, where are the Tories in a position to win a by-election? It's not as if safe seats are safe any more. And a Tory candidate needs the leader's writ to run, which Sunak is not about to extend to a Johnson candidature determined to depose him. And there's a third consideration. For the first time in his life, Johnson is making money faster than he can spend it. Why would he give that up to lead his former party to certain defeat and then five years in boring opposition? It's not going to happen.

But when things are desperate and providence is mocking the party to its face, anything and everything that might promise salvation will be grasped at. Yet there is a glimmer of rationality beneath the cope. The Tories, or rather the Tories pining for Johnson's return haven't completely lost it. Getting him back would almost certainly see the threat of Reform off. By-elections are a better gauge of support than the polls that continually flatter them, but the right flank would be shored up and the damage of split voting negated. And those Tory supporters electing to stay at home when the election drops would come out for the man who, a short time ago, was happy to see their bodies pile high.

It's just unfortunate for the Tories that their would-be saviour has better things to do than save the party that has provided him with a very fine living and a place in the history books as one of the worst Prime Ministers this country has ever seen.

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