Why Boris Had To Be Stopped
"The grown-ups are back" they tell us - but are they?
Yesterday was an extraordinary day in British politics. ‘Stop Boris Day’, we might call it. From the political class to the influencer set to the BBC, the cry went up: it cannot be Boris. He’s too disruptive. Too oafish. Too much of a liability. We need a grown-up in charge now. Someone who is sensible and slick and capable of placating the markets. The uniformity of the message was remarkable, and more than a little chilling. I’m struggling to recall the last time that elite opinion, the determination of the professional managerial classes to get what they want, was expressed as nakedly as it was this weekend.
From the right-wing press to the left-wing press, it was all ‘Not Boris’. The Mail, the Telegraph and The Times might all have backed Boris once, but not now. ‘Tory newspapers warn against the return of Boris Johnson’, as the Guardian giddily summed it up. On Saturday, even the Telegraph, Boris’s former employer, went with a frontpage splash that said ‘Sunak races to secure majority of Tory MPs’ next to a pic of Rishi looking dapper and determined. The more leftish view was summed up in the Guardian’s insistence that we must never allow the ‘return of the clown to the political circus’. We need ‘stable, functioning’ politics now, not the ‘prank on the public’ that a second BoJo stint would represent, the Guardian said.
As for the BBC, I felt like I was watching a party political broadcast for Ready for Rishi on News at Ten last night. The political editor Chris Mason might have tried to conceal his ideological bent, but he failed pretty miserably. He talked about Boris’s psychology and how he loves to be at the centre of attention. I’m sorry, is this news reporting or psychoanalysis? But this time round Boris fell flat, we were told. Yay! So it’s a ‘coronation’ for Rishi Sunak, asked Reeta Chakrabarti with a glowing smile? It certainly looks like it. Settle down, establishment – your boy’s going to win.
None of this should distract from the fact that Boris is a bit of a screw-up. His camp seems to have overstated his ability to get the backing of 100 Tory MPs, the threshold for standing to be the leader to replace Liz Truss. And the people pointing out that Boris has a lot hanging over him from the last time he was in charge of the country – including an investigation into whether he lied to parliament about all those lockdown parties in No10 – are right. Boris appears to have fluffed it himself. We didn’t actually need the political, media and cultural elites to go hell for leather to Stop Boris – Boris stopped Boris by not being much cop.
But the fact that a vast swathe of the establishment did want to stop Boris remains striking. And the reason they wanted to stop him is just depressing. Fundamentally, it’s because they think we’ve had our fun with populism and it’s now time to return to normalcy. It’s the ‘grown-ups’ we need back in power. The adults. ‘The grown-ups are back’, as Tory big-hitter Liam Fox said about Jeremy Hunt and Penny Mordaunt when they took the reins from Truss in the final troubled days of her premiership. Now they’re hoping for more such adulting from Rishi: he’ll be ‘sensible’, ‘calm’, ‘competent’, all the headlines say. Be still, my beating heart.
In Today’s Transom:
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