Hasta La vista was his last statement in the Commons and now ,the former U.K. prime minister — ousted only three months ago after a mass walk-out by his own ministers — is considering standing in the contest to become Tory leader following the disastrous tenure of his successor Liz Truss, who resigned Thursday after 44 days in power.
Conservative MPs joked with black humor over drinks on the House of Commons terrace last week that Truss, whose mini-budget triggered chaos in financial markets last month, achieved a lot in her short time in office by “burying the queen, the pound … and the Conservative Party.”
And it’s exactly that fear — that the Tories now face annihilation at the next election — upon which Johnson will hope to capitalize, having spectacularly revived Conservative fortunes at the last general election in 2019.
A subset of Tory MPs, particularly some in the post-industrial parts of northern England that voted Conservative for the first time three years ago, still believe Johnson is best placed to help them keep their seats. “The 2024 election will be super-tough,” one Tory MP considering their options noted.
But plenty of senior Tory figures fear that reverting to Johnson, now a hugely divisive figure, could permanently split the party. And a co-ordinated effort is already underway to put the brakes on his bid for power.
Any hope of a Johnson return is complicated by the new rules set in place for the contest to replace Truss.
After meeting Thursday afternoon, Tory Party bigwigs unveiled a plan that presents an obstacle to the former prime minister. Anyone who wants to stand in the contest will need the support of at least 100 MPs. *That imposes an unusually high threshold for Johnson to make it past his warring MP colleagues and onto the final ballot of the party’s 180,000-or-so grassroots members, among whom he would be favorite to win.*
There are even whispers in Westminster that senior party figures are pressing former leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt to strike a deal whereby if they both reach the run-off, the one with the fewest votes withdraws from the contest and endorses the other. That would crown a new leader early next week — avoiding the need for a Tory members’ ballot entirely
Johnson’s critics fear he will amass votes from the Tory right and then leapfrog that 100-MP threshold. “He’s not stoppable,” a Tory MP who is critical of Johnson warned. “He will get enough of the parliamentary party to be in the final two.”
Bring Back Boris
Without making a single public utterance since Truss resigned, Johnson has already built momentum. Around two dozen Tory MPs had declared their support for him by Thursday night.
Johnson’s allies argue that he is the only candidate with a mandate from the public thanks to the 2019 election. The Tories are installing their second prime minister in as many months without going to the country, and are already under heavy pressure to call a freshgeneral election.
Endorsing Johnson, Peterborough MP Paul Bristow told Sky News on Thursday: “We need an election winner and we had an election winner. As far as I’m concerned I’ll listen to my constituents — and their message was ‘bring back Boris’.”
“One person was elected by the British public with a manifesto and a mandate until January ’25,” tweeted Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary who is a vocal Johnson backer. “There can be no coronation of previously failed candidates.”
Cabinet Office Minister Brendan Clarke-Smith said: “We need somebody who can turn the tide and avert the disaster of a Labour government. We need Boris Johnson.”
Robert Jenrick, a minister who served in Johnson’s Cabinet, told the News Agents podcast the ex-PM was “one of the greatest campaigners in modern political history.”
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