RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Tories made a nuclear error sacking Boris Johnson

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: The Tories made a nuclear error sacking Boris Johnson

Go nuclear, go large. Just about sums up Boris Johnson’s career, come to think about it.

The first face I saw when I turned on the TV news yesterday morning was that of the outgoing PM.

He was holding a press conference at the Sizewell power station outlining the Government’s plans to tackle the energy crisis. For a moment I wondered if he’d had a change of heart and decided not to resign after all.

Boris was in full boosterism mode. His ‘go nuclear, go large’ fanfare heralded the announcement of a £700 million investment in expanding Sizewell’s capacity. He looked relaxed, refreshed and ready for the fray. Yet, bizarrely, by Monday night he’ll be gone.

This was Boris’s valedictory performance as Prime Minister and he was determined to milk it. He said it would be ‘absolute madness’ not to invest in nuclear, given the global havoc in the oil and gas markets caused by Putin’s war on Ukraine.

Boris was in full boosterism mode. His ‘go nuclear, go large’ fanfare heralded the announcement of a £700 million investment in expanding Sizewell’s capacity

Defending his record in office, he said: ‘This Government has not shirked the big decisions, we’ve raised our eyes and looked to the horizon.’

Sizewell C is in keeping with Johnson’s enthusiasm for grands projets — along with aborted brainwaves such as the proposed tunnel under the Irish Sea and the international airport on an island in the Thames Estuary.

To those mercifully shelved plans we must add his two greatest triumphs, Brexit and the world-beating Covid vaccine programme.

Either of these should have been enough to secure his legacy and ensure he led the Tories into the next General Election. But, tragically, to invert Oscar Wilde’s famous quote: while Boris was looking at the stars, others were determined to drag him into the gutter.

BoJo is often described as his own worst enemy. While it’s true that his tendency to go nuclear has often resulted in a Chernobyl-style meltdown, not all his woes have been self-inflicted.

Yes, his attempts to rig the Commons standards system in defence of fellow Brexiteer MP Owen Patterson, caught bang to rights taking money from firms to lobby ministers, was an appalling error.

So too, in retrospect, his decision to circle the wagons around his Svengali, Dominic Cummings, who drove to Barnard Castle at the height of the first Covid lockdown ‘to test his eyesight’.

As with Patterson, Boris acted out of misguided loyalty. And it backfired spectacularly in the case of Cummings who, after falling out with Carrie Antoinette, exacted his revenge by leaking a series of damaging stories once he left No 10.

Boris also turned a blind eye to after-hours boozing by Downing Street staff during lockdown, leading him to ‘inadvertently mislead’ Parliament — now elevated to a heinous crime by the pygmies on the Commons Privileges Committee, who are determined to drive a stake through his heart.

None of this should have been sufficient to force him from office, certainly not the ridiculous insistence that he must resign because an obscure member of his Government had been caught drunkenly fondling the backsides of two men in the Carlton Club. We’re not talking Watergate here.

Still, Johnson’s enemies were prepared to seize upon any alleged sin, no matter how minor, to destroy him, aided and abetted by the Civil Service and the pro-EU broadcast media.

Recalcitrant Remainers have never forgiven him for leading the successful Leave campaign. And, make no mistake, it was a personal, as well as a political triumph.

Speaking as a lifelong opponent of a federal Europe, I cheerfully admit that Nigel Farage deserves the credit for forcing the referendum. But it was only when Boris jumped on board that I became convinced we were in with a shout of winning.

The victory was, in significant part, down to the sheer force of Boris’s personality. You only had to observe how the crowds, particularly in the Red Wall seats in the North and Midlands, responded to him with warmth and enthusiasm.

It was the same story in 2019, when he led the Tories out of the doldrums and back into power with what we thought then was an unassailable 80-seat majority.

The Conservative landslide was the nearest thing Britain has seen to a U.S presidential-style mandate. Which makes it all the more sickening that so many Tory MPs who owe their seats to Johnson turned against him when push came to shove.

When he was forced to resign, I suggested Conservative MPs would repent at their leisure. Whatever Fizzy Lizzie’s qualities, she’s never going to connect with voters in the same way as Boris

If he was to be turfed out of No 10, it should have been by the electorate which put him into office, not courtesy of a petulant palace revolution by ambitious Conservative MPs, driven by petty resentments and a panicked grab at self-preservation.

In the U.S., the voters choose the president. In the UK, the Prime Minister can be removed by the parliamentary party.

Curious to think that if the British and American systems were reversed, lame duck President Joe Biden would be gone by now and Boris would still be there.

Actually, Boris should have got the job in 2016 when Call Me Dave threw in the towel after backing the wrong horse in the referendum. But typical, self-destructive Tory infighting put the kibosh on that and ushered in the disastrous Mother Theresa era, from which Boris had eventually to rescue us.

Just think, if he’d become PM then, as I wrote a few weeks back, Brexit would have been done and dusted years ago.

We’d have had no Gina Miller, no gurning gargoyle Bercow attempting every low trick to stop Brexit, no Northern Ireland Protocol. And if Remainers had tried to derail our withdrawal, Boris would simply have gone to the country and won the kind of majority he secured in 2019.

Plus, he’d probably be gone by now. His misfortune was to find himself in No 10 when Covid struck. Nobody saw that coming.

Yes, he made mistakes over lockdown. But you have to factor in the reality that he almost died from Covid and lost his mother during the pandemic.

No wonder caution prevailed, rightly or wrongly.

Against that, he defied conventional wisdom to ride roughshod over the usual risk-averse suspects and ensured that Britain became the first country to roll out a mass vaccination programme. For once, the over-used ‘world-beating’ hyperbole was justified.

That, and Brexit, is what he deserves to be judged upon, not fluff and nonsense about wallpaper and prosecco.

His obsession with the ruinous ‘net zero’ agenda must be placed firmly in the ‘goals against’ column. But yesterday, while still not fully endorsing fracking or continued use of fossil fuels, he did at least acknowledge that nuclear power was our long-term way out of the global energy crisis, despite opposition from the Thunberg tendency.

Frankly, at Sizewell yesterday, Boris seemed more comfortable than at any time since February 2020, when Covid struck. Maybe that’s because the yoke of office has been lifted.

But it’s been a wasted summer, weeks on end of Tories tearing lumps out of each other in a wholly unnecessary leadership contest.

It looks fairly certain that Fizzy Lizzie will be our next Prime Minister and we must wish her a fair wind for all our sakes. But I couldn’t help wondering what Tory MPs who voted to get rid of Boris made of his performance.

He was confident, fluent, joshing with reporters. The old Boris was back and, frankly, still head and shoulders above the pretenders.

When he was forced to resign, I suggested Conservative MPs would repent at their leisure. Whatever Fizzy Lizzie’s qualities, she’s never going to connect with voters in the same way as Boris.

Throughout his career, he’s painted himself into a corner, only to walk out confidently over the paint. He’s got away with scrapes and scandals which would have buried lesser mortals.

I’m convinced that he could have done so again. He’d have stumbled through the cost of living crisis just as he grappled with Covid and would almost certainly have won another, albeit reduced, majority — especially given the horrible alternative of a Starmer-led Labour/Lib Dem/SNP stitch-up.

So could the Tories ever plead: Come back Boris, all is forgiven? Probably not, but you never know. We’ll just have to wait and see whether he decides to go nuclear again.

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