Tom Newton Dunn’s exclusive about Boris Johnson and his wife having split up is notable as it suggests that the story was deliberately put out there in order to avoid it emerging during a leadership contest. Cynical maybe, but also understandable. Whether it will give licence to other papers to print more stories about Boris’s ‘dalliances’ remains to be seen.
Given the timing of this, I was interested to see the results of the latest ConHome leadership poll, in which Boris Johnson has moved ahead and is now supported by 35% of those who took part. Sajid Javid trailed on 15%, Jacob Rees-Mogg on 10% and everyone else below that.
There must be a temptation in Boris’s notoriously massive brain to strike while the iron is hot. There may never be a better time for it, unless of course he writes another column suggesting women who wear burqas should be rounded up and sent for compulsory re-education. I’m sure Steve Bannon would think that was a good idea.
But I digress. The trouble is, there isn’t actually a good time to strike, and if he did he’d have to be very sure that being the assassin that brought down a prime minister wouldn’t lead to him being punished. And therein lies the rub. He would be. Maybe not by party members, but by his fellow MPs, among whom he is a popular as a wet weekend in Cleethorpes. I still have severe doubts that he’d make the final two. I can’t prove it, but talking to Tory MPs – and maybe I’m talking to the wrong ones – they treat Boris with contempt and disdain. That’s because they have the advantage (I think) of knowing him. They know what he’s like.
Party members, on the other hand, see electoral stardust and ignore the total incompetence with which he ran the Foreign Office, and the series of gaffes that didn’t lead to his departure but should have. Boris sees himself as a latter day Churchill – biding his time before he can come and save a grateful nation. Well, it may or may not come to pass, but the challenge now for all the other leadership contenders is to emerge as a credible ‘Stop Boris’ candidate, who can resonate both with MPs and party members. I have no idea who that might be.
But time is short.