Like most people my reaction to yesterday’s news was what, what, what? and the realisation that nowadays a couple of minutes is a long time in politics. The narrative appeared to be that having almost reached the premiership that he has craved all his life, Johnson was to fall short, his friend and running mate Michael Gove having pulled out a stiletto and summarily dispatched him. Leading to lots of quotations of Not you as well Brutus or whatever it was that Shakespeare put in the mouth of Caesar when he realised that megalomania was not the best method of instilling loyalty in followers.
In a melodramatic revenge tragedy type way it all made sense. And yet…
What if yesterday’s events were actually a Johnson-engineered coup to save his own career and keep his powder dry for another future push for leadership?
We have seen that Johnson was uncertain how to continue with the Brexit project. We have surmised, almost certainly correctly, that he had no intention of actually winning the referendum. Faced with this unexpected victory and with Cameron’s resignation it seemed that the premiership was his for the taking. But he knew immediately that the prize would be tainted.
If he became Prime Minister now he ought immediately to call an election and would be voted out. His premiership would last days. If he didn’t call an election his job as PM would be to implement the deeply unpopular Brexit, which would leave him with an unenviable reputation: the man who took Britain out of the EU. Not to mention that any Brexit negotiations will be hard work and require great study of detail. And whatever Johnson is good at, we are told by colleagues that neither hard work or grasp of detail are his strengths.
So has Gove done Johnson a great favour? Johnson knew that he had made an error, that to become PM now would lead only to hard work, opprobrium and losing the next election. To merely stand down from the leadership election would have rendered him unable to stand again in the future, but to be ‘stabbed in the back’ regarners him some of the support he has lost and allows him to sit out the damaging times that are coming for whoever does lead the Tories.
Then Johnson can slip back into the running in a few years’ time and Project PM can continue.
What do you think? Comments welcomed below…