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Blue crush

Tories are back in love with Boris

You knew Boris Johnson was serious, we learned on Sunday morning, because he had tucked his shirt in. To many, this was a sign of the way that the Conservative party instinctively lowers its standards for Johnson, as though “he can dress himself” was the sign of a potential prime minister, rather than a precocious two-year-old. But looking down the list of Johnson supporters, it’s not hard to imagine that some of them dream of the day they’re allowed to try big boy pants.

There was more than a hint of desperation around Team Boris on Sunday. The photos of a haggard, jetlagged Johnson phoning round for support, looking like a past-it cricketer flogging hair implants. The insistence that he has enough backers, although we don’t know them, because they sit in a different parliament. The way the Guido Fawkes website designed its graph to make it appear he was in touching distance of crossing the line, even though the site’s own numbers showed that wasn’t true. The deployment of Jacob Rees-Mogg for broadcast interviews. These are not things that winners do.

Johnson’s big backer for Sunday morning was Nadhim Zahawi, one of the few people to have benefited from the last six weeks, in that he’s no longer “Worst Chancellor of 2022”. It seems like only last week that Zahawi was boasting that he was “chief operating officer” of what has somehow managed to be the least successful government in modern British history, but he had now popped up to offer us his wisdom about the next stage of the clown show. It is a genuine Tory achievement that in modern Britain you no longer have to be white and male to fail upwards.

For some reason he’d chosen not to appear on television to make this announcement

“I’m backing Boris,” Zahawi’s tweet began. For some reason he’d chosen not to appear on television to make this announcement, although broadcasters were short of Johnson-supporters. Perhaps he’s hoping to be able to say that his account was hacked. “He got the big calls right,” he went on, listing vaccines, Ukraine and then, bafflingly, “stepping down for the sake of unity”. Leaving aside the point that this was a highly charitable way to describe a man being forced from office by the resignation of every minister who had a sense of shame, the argument seemed to be that Johnson had proved he was the right man to be prime minister by resigning as prime minister. MC Escher had staircases that were less complicated than that. 

Surely though, Nadhim, you remember that time three months ago when you were “heartbroken” that Johnson was “undermining” his own reputation, when you urged him to quit because the government needed “integrity”? Never fear, dear reader. “When I was Chancellor,” Zahawi continued, taking us back again to those glorious hours when the Treasury found itself led by a man whose tax affairs are somehow even more awkward than Rishi Sunak’s, “I saw a preview of what Boris 2.0 would look like.” He’d be permanently on holiday and refusing to take decisions? “He was contrite and honest about his mistakes.” Well, OK. There was no evidence of this in public, it has to be said. But maybe he’s different when he’s with you. “He’d learned from those mistakes how he could run Number 10 and the country better.”

So there it is. That time on the beach has made Johnson see things differently. He’s served his punishment on the highly-paid lecture circuit, and it’s time to give him another shot. If only there were some clue as to what he would be like.

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