Johnson’s promotion of nutters like Peter Bone tells us his plan: He wants to retake the Tory leadership after the next election

by Atul Hatwal

Boris Johnson looks like he’s staying. Not as prime minister, nothing can prevent his imminent ejection from Number 10. But he’s going to stay as an MP and is planning for a comeback as Tory leader after the next election. How do we know? His final government reshuffle tells us.

Johnson has promoted a raft of lifelong backbenchers – the mad, the bad and dangerous to know. Peter Bone to Deputy Leader of the House, Andrea Jenkyns into the education team, Richard Drax to the Attorney General’s department, there are several more.

One interpretation has been that this was Boris Johnson rewarding his supporters with a taste of ministerial office before his leadership is over. There’s likely an element of this but Boris Johnson is not a man whose life story is one of loyalty and commitment to looking after his colleagues. If he does anything, for anyone, it’s because he wants something.

In this case, that thing is to create what he has historically lacked – a core of Johnsonites in the parliamentary party. People whose exclusive loyalty is to him. He’ll have seen the cultish commitment of so many in the Republican party to Trump and coveted it.

The drawn out fall of Boris Johnson has progressively turned most of the parliamentary Conservative party against him but there is one group that stands apart. Individuals who continued to defend Johnson to the end, who never called on him to go and were privately telling him to fight on. It’s not a group defined by ideology or geography or even past allegiances, but for whatever reason, however they arrived at their destination, they have been radicalised into becoming fervent backers of Boris Johnson.

The opportunity to forge this group into his personal guard is the opportunity that the soon to be ex-Prime minister is seizing. Ministerial office bestowed by Johnson, complete with severance packages when they’re inevitably sacked by the new leadership, is the glue to bind them together, after the fall.

Johnson said he planned to stay as an MP after leaving Number 10. Most people assumed this was a lie and that he’d be off around the world earning as much money as humanly possible. The reshuffle suggests otherwise. Picture the scene: an embattled Conservative party either squeaks to a narrow victory at the next election or slumps to a defeat. Either way, whoever wins the current leadership election will face huge difficulty.

Defeat would almost certainly mean defenestration and another leadership election. A narrow victory would perhaps be worse, they would relive the experience of John Major in the 1990s and Theresa May after 2017, held to ransom on every issue by a mind-boggling assortment of crackpot Conservative groupuscules. A vote of confidence among Tory MPs would be a virtual inevitability followed by, yes, another leadership election.

In this coming world of chaos, Boris Johnson would be a beacon of better times. Optimism! Remember the 80 seat majority! Ignore the doomsters, trust Boris again. Who cares about a couple of beers several years ago or Christopher Pincher.

Theresa May has shown that staying as an MP is no obstacle to earning prodigiously post-Number 10. Boris Johnson remaining in Parliament, but surrounded by a militia of backbench jihadi serfs, MPs whose raison d’etre in politics was solely to advance the cause of their leader, now that would be a formidable prospect.

The combination of Johnson’s celebrity, revived by regular jocular media appearances and his parliamentary acolytes, agitating and briefing against the Conservative leadership, spreading poison whenever and wherever possible, would be hugely destabilising in any circumstances but after an election defeat or narrow victory, would rapidly create the conditions for a second coming of Johnson.

The only cloud in this sunny vision is potentially Johnson’s seat – Uxbridge and South Ruislip is the sort of southern seat that should be closely fought at the next election. Johnson has a seven thousand majority over Labour but demographic change and a squeeze on the four thousand Lib Dem and Green voters could and should make this a marginal. But if his celebrity and status as ex-PM can secure the seat then it’s a brave punter to bet against Johnson as a front-runner for the future Tory leadership, particularly if bolstered by a close-knit team that has been working from the backbenches for him since his departure from Number 10. Johnson probably doesn’t have that long to wait, probably three years given a likely election in 2024 followed by party upheaval and rinse and repeat for another leadership election in 2025. The time will fly by.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Labour Uncut

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