Boris Johnson has endured a fall from grace unparalleled in the quietly Machiavellian world of modern British politics. Once held to be the Conservative heir apparent, a tempestuous prodigal son to David Cameron’s placid father, he now faces a possibly permanent hiatus from public life, sidelined in the leadership election he was widely expected to win.
Though shrouded in mystery, the rough contours of Boris’ predicament are already clear – more sinister, technocratic forces within Tory Euroscepticism have moved ruthlessly against him. For many years now, the ex-Mayor of London has acted as a go-to figure of fun, a person the Conservative Party could always count on to shore up support among a bloodthirsty base and an outright alienated public. In this respect, his alignment with the Leave campaign was both a gamble and a gambit. It meant that he could not only carve out a core of identifiable supporters for himself, but that he was guaranteed the Prime Ministership in most foreseeable scenarios; it was rooted, however, in the assumption that his maverick, crowd-pleasing style could ever survive your average month in the backrooms of Westminster, where there dwells a dry, cutthroat regime.
He barely lasted a week. As many had no doubt realised, Boris was merely tolerated by the Conservative inner circle as long as he refrained from compromising their position. His drift towards the Out lobby no doubt cost him many senior allies; Michael Gove, the man responsible for his sudden retreat, his personal commitment to a Brexit has been called into question, though Gove has thus far been able to conceal his own alleged opportunism behind a veneer of public inscrutability. As a selling point for the Outers, boasting both the respectability of a stalwart and the flamboyance of a Nigel Farage, Boris flourished; as we warned on June 24th, the worst was yet to come, and he has failed to grapple with the new realities facing Britain.
As a competitor for the highest office in the land, ‘BoJo’ has fallen at the first hurdle. The stage is now set for a showdown between more ‘serious’ Party bigwigs, namely Liam Fox and Theresa May (and, of course, Gove, who has publicly attributed his last-minute intervention in the race to Boris’ purported incompetence).