He’s been written off time and again. Many Tory MPs hate him. Others mock and ridicule him. But countless Conservative activists adore Boris Johnson.
And with the demise of Theresa May and her Brexit deal, he is closer than ever before to achieving his lifetime ambition.
There may be more than ten leading Tories currently burnishing what they see as their leadership credentials, but Mr Johnson is rightly the bookies’ favourite to be the next Tory leader and thus prime minister.
Having been sent packing from Brussels, Mr Johnson would come back to Westminster and press for a No Deal Brexit. But although there might be a new prime minister, the make-up of the Commons would be exactly the same — with a robust majority still against Britain leaving the EU
Indeed, if the timetable for Mrs May’s resignation and the election for her replacement is hurried up, he could be in No 10 by September.
The fact is that after the Tories’ humiliating defeat in the local elections with more than 1,300 council seats lost and the expected bloodbath in the European elections on May 23, the party faces electoral Armageddon.
It’s not impossible that in view of voters’ anger and frustration at the way the Government has spent 35 months failing to solve Brexit, the Tories could even come sixth, behind the Brexit Party, Labour, the Lib Dems, Change UK and the Greens.
Certainly, expect a mutiny on May 23. The party’s grassroots are already mustering. Tory backbenchers are considering changing party rules in order to hold another vote on Mrs May’s future.
The one to beat would be Boris. Derided as he is by many, the fact is that he is the only leading Tory who can project himself as an antidote to Nigel Farage. Mr Farage is pictured above in Lincoln
This is utterly unprecedented. That said, it is a mistake to assume Mrs May will meekly step down.
I am told that some of this determined and resourceful lady’s advisers are encouraging her to play one last card.
They want her to take advantage of the anticipated success of Right-wing populists (such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen in France, the Eurosceptic party Dutch Forum For Democracy in the Netherlands and separatists in Spain).
She would be urged to make a final plea to France’s bruised president Emmanuel Macron and to European Council president Donald Tusk (who’s soon to leave his job) to grant the concessions she needs to get her Brexit deal approved in the Commons.
Those advocating this course say she would also play on the fact that Brussels and other EU leaders would much prefer to do this than face a Prime Minister Johnson who would endeavour to achieve a No Deal Brexit.
By giving Mrs May what she wanted, it would mean that British MEPs would not take up their seats and Brussels would be spared a rampant Farage using his spot in the European Parliament to taunt them.
Coincidentally or not, Mrs May’s decision to grant MPs an 11-day Parliamentary Recess from May 24 means that members of the Tories’ backbench 1922 committee will not be in Westminster and, therefore, unable to meet to do anything to speed her departure until June 4 at the earliest.
They want her to take advantage of the anticipated success of Right-wing populists (such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen in France, the Eurosceptic party Dutch Forum For Democracy in the Netherlands and separatists in Spain) The European Parliament’s main chamber is pictured above
An alternative strategy is being plotted by others in No 10 who say she should just plug away at talks with Labour and they are still optimistic about a breakthrough.
However, such an approach is likely to stretch to the limit the loyalty of Tory members who have stuck with her through thick and thin since she declared ‘Brexit means Brexit’.
If this second option fails, this proud woman — and I remain an admirer of such a hard-working and patriotic politician — would be dragged out of Downing Street by her own party. This would leave us with a leadership election.
Most of the men and women who have already hinted they would stand — ranging from the over-hyped Sajid Javid to the likeable but too inexperienced Esther McVey — stand little or no chance.
The one to beat would be Boris. Derided as he is by many, the fact is that he is the only leading Tory who can project himself as an antidote to Nigel Farage.
As a result, Tory MPs would be told that choosing Mr Johnson would be the only chance of saving their skins. It might go against all their sensitivities, but they would feel it was their only chance.
The lower their morale sinks, the further the party falls in the polls, the more the party would look for a saviour.
Robotic Raab, hesitant Hunt and leaden-footed Leadsom do not fit this bill.
Let’s assume then that Boris Johnson was one of two candidates chosen by Tory MPs to be voted on in a run-off by Conservative members and that he became leader. There would be an initial euphoric coronation at the party’s annual conference in Manchester at the end of September.
But the elation, I’m sure, would not last long.
Yes, Boris Johnson has charisma, but he can’t work miracles. He would find it hard to change much. He has promised he would go to Brussels to re-negotiate a better deal. But there’s little prospect of that ploy working. Mr Johnson is regarded with contempt by most European leaders.
Having been sent packing from Brussels, Mr Johnson would come back to Westminster and press for a No Deal Brexit.
But although there might be a new prime minister, the make-up of the Commons would be exactly the same — with a robust majority still against Britain leaving the EU. Of course, Prime Minister Johnson could take the nuclear option — suspend Parliament and push through Brexit without the assent of MPs.
[May] would be urged to make a final plea to France’s bruised president Emmanuel Macron (above) and to European Council president Donald Tusk (who’s soon to leave his job) to grant the concessions she needs to get her Brexit deal approved in the Commons
But that would be a move of incalculable chutzpah and require the permission of the Queen. And by dragging the monarchy into politics, Mr Johnson would be playing with fire.
Considering that Britain’s most senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, has issued a doomsday analysis of how the country would be affected by a No Deal Brexit, Mr Johnson would need all his formidable powers of persuasion to reassure the electorate he was not endangering the country’s future.
Sir Mark said leaving the EU without a deal would hamper the police and security services, food prices would rise 10 per cent and lead to the return of direct rule in Northern Ireland.
If, as many senior Conservatives believe is inevitable, the impasse leads to a General Election, Mr Johnson will need more substantial arguments to win it than were employed in the referendum campaign.
All this said, Boris Johnson is an intelligent man.
I know this because I worked for him for four years when he was editor of the Spectator magazine. He’s capable of sophisticated political calculations.
So I would expect that he would be forced to rein in his No Deal instincts and track to the Brexit centre ground.
He would calculate that he could rely on the Brexiteer right of the Conservative Party regardless. It would be the Remainer wing of the Conservative Party he would have to woo and rebrand himself as a One Nation Tory.
Part of that strategy, I predict, would be to make arch-Remainer Amber Rudd Britain’s first female Chancellor and Thatcherite Liz Truss his Business Secretary. I am told also that James Cleverly would become the first black Tory chairman.
Such a path would be in the great Tory tradition of Right-wingers cynically renouncing populist policies after winning power. Benjamin Disraeli is a good example of that type.
Of course, all this is conjecture. But the Tories are fighting for their very future — and desperate times mean desperate measures.
Charity work beats petty revenge
A furious and unrepentant Gavin Williamson was pictured alongside former Chancellor George Osborne this week.
Both men were sacked by Theresa May — and both are said to be intent on inflicting maximum damage on her.
If Mr Williamson had an ounce of decency, though, he would follow the example of Tory War Secretary John Profumo who quit the Cabinet after being caught lying in Parliament about sharing a lover with the Soviet military attaché at the height of the Cold War in 1963.
Profumo dedicated the rest of his life to charity work with the poor and, until his dying day, shunned any publicity due to his sense of shame.
A furious and unrepentant Gavin Williamson was pictured alongside former Chancellor George Osborne this week. Both men were sacked by Theresa May — and both are said to be intent on inflicting maximum damage on her