For decades I have known that Boris Johnson would become prime minister.
Many people dismissed him as a buffoon and a charlatan. This was mainly envy. His political rivals were envious of his intelligence, his ability to draw a crowd and even his success with women.
Behind the bluster there has always been a brilliant man. Even when he was still a working journalist 20 years ago, it was obvious that he had a dazzling future.
I went to work for Boris when he was editor of The Spectator magazine. It was a joy
I went to work for Boris when he was editor of The Spectator magazine. It was a joy.
Tony Blair was prime minister. The Tory Party was in ruins. The Spectator was the nearest thing to a real Conservative opposition. And Tony Blair hated us.
We would all get together for our weekly conference and they were brilliant events — because of Boris. He bubbled with ideas and humour, and as a result so did we. He made everything fun.
The Boris whom punters saw on TV was exactly the same as the performer in the editor’s chair. He was the same in private as he was in public.
As a boss he was loyal. On several occasions I got into serious trouble and he always stood by me. Sometimes at personal cost.
The quality which struck me most, however, was his acute brain.
Tony Blair was prime minister. The Tory Party was in ruins. The Spectator was the nearest thing to a real Conservative opposition. And Tony Blair hated us
Most editors in my experience are dim. You can explain to them an idea for 20 minutes and they still haven’t got their head around it. But Boris understood what I was trying to say before I’d reached the end of my first sentence, and then go far beyond.
His brain can operate with Exocet precision. This intellectual clarity was completely at odds with his carefully calculated public image as a bumbling fool.
He always asked the right question. He mastered a brief with immense speed. He possessed a mature, nuanced understanding of politics which far surpassed anyone else I have ever dealt with.
Unlike most prime ministers of recent times, he had a well-stocked mind. He was well-read and had a historical frame of reference. He was — and is — a man of ideas.
And of enormous relevance to the job he takes up today, he was an inspired leader.
Partly because he was so busy, he was an expert delegator. Much of the everyday work which would usually befall an editor was carried out by his deputy.
Yet Boris always remained on top of his job. He would call in from the ski slopes, a family holiday or an international conference with ideas of burning relevance.
Boris has been accused of losing his temper. I never saw him do that. However, I have seen him deliberately lose his temper — an entirely different thing.
Once, the advertising manager barged into the editorial conference and started to throw his weight around. I watched Boris as he heard this imposter out and then abruptly ordered him from the room.
Boris concentrated on the big issues. He was open-minded, liberal and international in outlook.
He took this approach to his first big political job, Mayor of London. London is a huge, global multi-cultural city and Boris fitted it perfectly. Once again he showed that crucial ability to delegate.
Theresa May, pictured, hated to delegate responsibility and micromanaged her office
While he focused on bringing his vision of London to the world, much of the more detailed work was overseen by his chief-of-staff, Sir Edward Lister, working with others. It’s no coincidence that Sir Edward will join the new prime minister in Downing Street in the same role.
Many recent prime ministers — Theresa May and Gordon Brown are notorious examples — hate to delegate responsibility. They insist on micro-managing their office. This makes them a nightmare to work for. It also means important decisions get delayed or overlooked.
Boris’s cheerful ability to allow others to do the work — and to let them take the credit — is enormously attractive.
It’s also a much better way of running the country, especially with the British system of cabinet government.
There have been a number of cack-handed attempts to compare Boris Johnson with Winston Churchill, not least from Boris himself.
I’d prefer to compare him to another Old Etonian prime minister, Harold Macmillan.
There have been a number of cack-handed attempts to compare Boris Johnson with Winston Churchill, not least from Boris himself. I’d prefer to compare him to another Old Etonian prime minister, Harold Macmillan
Macmillan allowed his cabinet ministers to go about their job until they failed, when he would then ruthlessly sack them. Macmillan liked to say that Prime Ministers ought to have ‘energy in reserve’.
I predict that will define Boris Johnson’s own approach to government. He is so talented himself that he won’t feel threatened by ambitious young thrusters (to use one of his favourite expressions). Brilliant himself, he will want to have brilliant men and women about him.
To sum up, the Boris I knew well 15 years ago has the potential to be one of Britain’s great prime ministers.
Upon his election in 1513, the Renaissance Pope Leo X said: ‘Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.’
Boris will be thinking exactly the same. He enjoys life and in Downing Street he will convey that enjoyment of life to ordinary voters. He excites people. They may disapprove of him but they still want to be in his company.
He is a very quick study. And I predict that his officials will enjoy working with him.
But I am also concerned. I worry whether he’s paid too high a price to get to Downing Street.
The truth is that a great deal of Tory politics is less fragrant than a public sewer. Rich men and women hover around politicians desperate to buy access and influence.
Any ambitious Tory politician likely to make it into No. 10 is exposed to a world of sumptuous villas, private jets and an open chequebook to fund any political project you want.
It’s well documented that Boris has got close to dodgy millionaires and dubious Russian oligarchs. His defenders might point out that Tony Blair and his ally, Peter Mandelson, enjoyed similar blandishments.
But I believe it’s not good enough in a future prime minister. It raises deep questions over Johnson’s judgment.
He has fallen into the wrong company as he’s made his way up the greasy pole. We now know he’s been taking advice from Donald Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon — a sinister figure who has been accused of being a white supremacist and of attempting to stir up Right-wing populism in Europe
He has fallen into the wrong company as he’s made his way up the greasy pole. We now know he’s been taking advice from Donald Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon — a sinister figure who has been accused of being a white supremacist and of attempting to stir up Right-wing populism in Europe.
Bannon is not the only thing Johnson has in common with Donald Trump. Both President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson have a habit of making up the truth as they go along. In Boris’s case, this dates back to his first job at The Times, from which he was sacked for falsifying a quote.
And this lack of integrity has been particularly evident during the Tory leadership campaign of the past few weeks, when he has been caught out not knowing what he is talking about.
Troublingly, Boris Johnson was also a poor Foreign Secretary. I once took an expert on Yemen to meet him.
Boris appeared interested and listened hard to the ideas she came up with to end the humanitarian calamity there. But there were no follow-up actions, and the catastrophe continued.
The shameful truth is that Britain was the penholder at the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Yemen. In effect, Boris didn’t lift a finger. The same could be said of the genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The Foreign Office under Boris actually defended the bloodstained regime while the genocide was taking place.
Some historians, then, will look back with moral horror at his time at the Foreign Office. And that brings me to one grave doubt concerning our new prime minister, which I know is shared by many good judges.
He can make intelligent, pragmatic decisions, but is there is moral bone in his body? Is British politics for him all about himself?
I’ve started to worry that the liberal internationalist I admired so much as Spectator editor is turning into a ethno-nationalist — a house-trained Donald Trump
Meanwhile, Johnson continues to use racist language. In a column that he wrote for the Daily Telegraph in 2002, he described African people as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’.
I dismissed it at the time. But as he moved closer to power, the use of such language has persisted —hence his recent comparison of Muslim women who wear the burka to ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letter boxes’.
I’ve started to worry that the liberal internationalist I admired so much as Spectator editor is turning into a ethno-nationalist — a house-trained Donald Trump.
It’s noticeable that the two men get on well, and, of course, Boris will need Trump if he is going to deliver on his pledge of Brexit.
Do we really want to be an appendage of Trump’s America?
Boris Johnson is a man who loves to be loved and once he is in Downing Street, will he have the strength to stand up to rich domestic donors and powerful international backers?
When he was at The Spectator, life was easy for him. He could face both sides at once and commission an article supporting one thesis and another one opposing it.
Now he is going to have to make a series of decisions of massive importance to Britain. That means making enemies. And Boris doesn’t like making enemies.
On Brexit, the decision is coming towards him with the weight and force of an express train.
Is he ready to fall out with the hedge-fund managers who funded his campaign and yearn for a hard Brexit?
Or will he tack back to the centre ground? My instinct is that Boris is personally terrified at the prospect of heading out of the EU with a hard Brexit and will do anything to avoid such an outcome.
But dare he let down his hard Brexiteer supporters and allies — as well as President Trump?
As part of his persona, Boris has often presented himself as P.G. Wodehouse’s comic character Bertie Wooster. But some of his recent conduct bears comparison with another Wodehouse character — the caricature far-right politician Sir Roderick Spode.
It’s uncertainties such as these that mean I’d never have voted for Boris had I been part of the Tory membership.
But there is no question that if Prime Minister Boris does succeed in doing what his campaign mantra promised — Deliver Brexit, Unite the country, Defeat Jeremy Corbyn and Energise Britain, or DUDE as he dubbed it yesterday — and without ill effects, he will be remembered as a major figure in British history.
Get it wrong — and he will be hated. Fail — and he will be little more than an exotic footnote.
We will know the answer within a matter of months.