Not even Boris can save the useless Tories

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson
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If the Conservative Party’s high command really thinks that “bringing back” Boris Johnson in some form is the remedy for its unpopularity then it has, as they say, another think coming.

For while Johnson is certainly a more gifted stump campaigner than Rishi Sunak, the mood of the right-of-centre electorate is firmly in what one might refer to as Pete Townshend mode (“won’t get fooled again”). A few joint appearances by Sunak and the blond bombshell – or even Johnson standing again – will not bring back the long-lost hordes of voters.

The basic situation is as follows: for the past decade or so the Conservative Party has steered the country in the manner of an ungifted yet blasé learner driver, and now it has been found out. There have been bunny hops up the road, multiple engine stallings and 18-point turns. On Brexit and economic management, the sudden changes of direction have destroyed the illusion of basic competence.

But it is on the foundational issue of immigration that the worst offences have been perpetrated. Coming up to every junction, the electorate has told the party to turn right and yet it has, time and again, turned left. Now, the disastrous consequences are plain to see – acute housing shortages, public services overwhelmed, core British values overtly condemned by Islamist mobs.

On this issue, now consistently ranked the nation’s number one problem by people who voted Tory in 2019, Johnson is as culpable as his predecessors and successors in 10 Downing Street. David Cameron and Theresa May broke promises to bring annual net migration down to the tens of thousands, averaging a quarter of a million each. Then Johnson promised voters that overall numbers would come down on his watch before raising them to their highest levels. Liz Truss was rumoured to be preparing yet further liberalisations before she was brought down and then Sunak stuck to Johnson’s course of 700,000 incomers a year net.

And now the Tories appear to think that a bit of end of the pier ice cream licking, Blair and Brown-style, from Sunak and Johnson will bring cultural conservatives in the Red Wall and the traditional shire redoubts flocking back to their banner. That is one cones hotline which is surely destined to fail.

Between now and election day, it would be surprising if Johnson refused to offer a few token acts of support for Sunak. No doubt this will include a couple of rallying columns. But this will primarily be to advertise to the remnants of the party’s activist base that he remains loyal to it rather than amounting to any serious attempt to keep his usurper in Downing Street.

Perhaps Sunak will also offer Johnson the Tory candidacy in one of many soon-to-be vacant “plum” seats where, the sitting MP is standing down. Kwasi Kwarteng’s Spelthorne constituency on the edge of London (2019 majority 18,000) could be on offer given that Kwarteng pushed the idea of a Boris resurrection during a weekend television appearance.

In which case, Johnson will surely be canny enough to graciously decline and thus preserve the idea that he is an electoral “winner” and that the impending catastrophe is Sunak’s alone.

When we learn of two more Tory by-election disasters early on Friday, they will largely be put down to Sunak being an electoral liability for his party. Few will remember that, before his defenestration, Johnson was presiding over similar by-election disasters.

There has seldom been a better time to be a prince over the water in Tory politics rather than taking a leading role in the looming episode of Total Wipeout.

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