SARAH VINE: Boris has made a liberating, sane choice. Sod’em all. We could even see him on Strictly
Power is a drug like no other. Once tried, nothing ever feels quite so good. And like most drugs, the more consumed, the more you need to stay high.
That, in essence, is the reason all political careers end in failure. Political power is an addiction and, like all addictions, it eventually destroys the user, hollows them out. It becomes the one thing they crave above all else and at the expense of all else: friends, family, principles. And they will do anything to get it, even more to keep hold of it.
Almost the hardest thing to do is to walk away. Which is why, unlike many, I don’t see Boris Johnson’s resignation as a humiliating failure – but the first sane thing he has done in a long time.
Granted, he didn’t get there entirely under his own steam. Had the Privileges Committee not found, as it did, that Johnson misled Parliament, a conclusion he vehemently contests, he would still be MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. But given that it did, he made the right choice: sod the lot of them. Walk away.
It won’t be easy in the short term. But in the long term, he has everything to gain. Reputationally, it can only play to his advantage.
Granted, he didn’t get there entirely under his own steam. Had the Privileges Committee not found, as it did, that Johnson misled Parliament, a conclusion he vehemently contests, he would still be MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Mr Johnson pictured in March 2023
Ignore all the crowing from the likes of Angela Rayner and Emily Thornberry: ultimately, people, voters, will respect him for it. Not only is it the correct thing to do, there’s also nothing sadder – or madder, for that matter – than a politician who clings to power when it’s clear their time is up.
Just look at Donald Trump: delusional and dangerous. Johnson’s detractors are fond of comparing him to Trump but, in reality, the two are nothing like each other. Trump would never have the balls or the self-knowledge to do what Johnson has just done.
On a personal level, too, it’s the right decision. Johnson and his wife Carrie are expecting their third child. Their eldest, Wilfred, has just turned three. That’s a handful by anyone’s standards, let alone for a man with five older children and who is pushing 60.
If there were ever a time to step up as a husband and father, it’s now. He needs to provide financially for this enormous brood and he can make far more outside Westminster as a former prime minister and MP, unencumbered by parliamentary regulations and free of the Tory whip, than he can within it.
His children deserve the opportunity to be themselves in life, instead of the inevitable ‘child of’. True, there’s no escaping their famous name; but at least if their dad is not on the front line, they won’t be blamed for everything the Government gets wrong, constantly pre-judged by their teachers and peers, and mocked by those who would mercilessly use them to attack their father.
If Rishi Sunak loses the next Election, Johnson would relish having a bit of distance between him and, ultimately, the man who will be seen as having led the Tories to failure
READ MORE: Boris met Rishi for a secret peace summit but days later, flying to Cairo, he was sent a ‘killer’ email… The poisonous inside story of what led Johnson to his bombshell resignation
When Boris Johnson slipped unnoticed into Parliament just over a week ago for a secret meeting with Rishi Sunak, he came in peace. The pair are pictured together in June 2020 at a gathering in the Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street
It won’t be straightforward, as David Cameron and countless others have discovered. The loss of that gravitational pull of power can leave a fellow orbiting somewhat aimlessly.
But Johnson has a better chance than many: not all his identity is bound up in Westminster politics, he has more of a hinterland than most: author, journalist, editor, showman.
Politics narrows the mind because it’s such an obsessive and all-consuming undertaking; leaving can be liberating.
It is not within the realms of fantasy to imagine Johnson fronting his own political TV show or presenting a documentary series. Maybe he could start a parenting blog. Who knows?
Maybe his agent is already brokering a ten-part Netflix series of Keeping Up With The Johnsons, or negotiating his fee for Strictly. I’ve cut a rug with him myself, and he’s a decent dad-dancer.
Boris just needs to spot the opportunities and resist the urge to get sucked back in. Not least because, politically, his best chance of a comeback is, ironically, to avoid Westminster.
The next 18 months will be very tough for the Conservatives. Those in the party who have long wanted Johnson gone are relieved to be shot of what they see as his toxic influence.
As one said to me: ‘His personality was so big. Every time we knocked on a door, it was Boris this, Boris that. It was always about him – and the cult of Boris. He became the drama: it’s time for everyone to move on.’
But if the Government’s difficulties intensify, Johnson could wish to distance himself from the Sunak administration.
If Rishi Sunak loses the next Election, Johnson would relish having a bit of distance between him and, ultimately, the man who will be seen as having led the Tories to failure.
Conservatives will look back nostalgically on the 2019 Election. Assuming Johnson then wants to return, he could easily spin himself as a proven vote-winner ousted on technicalities by a prejudiced and hostile group jealous of his success. He has already set up that narrative in his resignation statement. But the truth is that if he stays away long enough, the chances are he won’t want to go back.
Boris just needs to spot the opportunities and resist the urge to get sucked back in. Not least because, politically, his best chance of a comeback is, ironically, to avoid Westminster (Pictured in September 2019)
So no, it’s not Johnson I feel sorry for. He’ll be fine. It’s the Conservative Party I’m worried about
A life in front-line politics is many things – intoxicating, exciting, stimulating, fascinating, fulfilling – but it is rarely a very happy existence.
Perhaps in the past it was easier; but in today’s febrile, unforgiving, highly judgmental atmosphere, in a political climate dominated by social media, it requires a level of intellectual sterility and self-imposed sanctimoniousness that Johnson, with his huge, messy ego, accident-prone morality and all-round fuzzy edges, is really not suited to.
Once, behaviour such as his was considered colourful, characterful. It was accepted that sometimes great men have great flaws. Now, it’s incumbent on anyone seeking power to be as anodyne as possible. Indeed, exhibiting any kind of personality is considered a disadvantage, as evidenced by the success of Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak.
So no, it’s not Johnson I feel sorry for. He’ll be fine. It’s the Conservative Party I’m worried about.
A party which seems absolutely determined to divest itself of someone who, while very far from perfect, won it an astonishing majority at the last election.
Someone who, while no doubt guilty of some serious errors of judgment, tackled the huge, very serious issues – Brexit, Covid, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – with intelligence and vision.
And a man who brought a bit of spice to a political landscape that, increasingly, seems painted in dreary shades of grey.
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