December 5, 2022
ConservativeHome described the 2019 general election as three overlapping contests: one in Scotland, one in the Leave-supporting Midlands and the North, and the last in Remain-leaning London and its hinterland.
The Party duly held its own in Scotland and made big gains in the North and (especially) the Midlands. And so it won an overall majority.
However, there was a catch.
Namely, that the Tories performed very poorly in Greater London and its immediate surroundings. So much so that Boris Johnson, against all expectation, lost his seat in Uxbridge by the ricepaper-thin margin of 25 votes.
This curveball to end all curveballs poleaxed the Conservatives, and should have caused even more chaos than it did.
For Johnson had steered clear of leaving anyone in pole position as a potential successor (and therefore challenger). Dominic Raab was First Secretary of State. But only fourth in the Cabinet rankings.
And an immediate leadership contest was obviously out of the question. The new Government needed a Prime Minister who could take charge immediately .
At this point, fate intervened.
For Raab had also lost his seat in Esher and Walton. That left the man second in the Cabinet rankings as indisputably the most senior person left standing: Michael Gove.
After the briefest of soundings, the Queen sent for the then Environment Secretary, who confirmed that he could form a government.
Speaking at the podium outside Number Ten, he told the nation that: “We owe it to my friend Boris to Get Brexit Done now.”
Gove also confirmed that Johnson would remain Leader of the Conservative Party – and suggested that he would be willing to make way for him as Prime Minister were the latter to return to the Commons in a by-election.
Our readers know the rest of the story.
Johnson duly returned just in time for January 31 – Brexit Day – after Nadine Dorries selflessly stood down in Mid-Bedfordshire, and the local Association adopted Johnson as its by-election candidate.
But despite Gove protesting many times that he stands ready to quit in Johnson’s favour, and that no-one is more distressed by the former Prime Minister’s plight than he, the moment never quite seems to come.
Donald Trump’s sudden decision to bomb Tehran, after an altercation with Hassan Rouhani at the Trump Towers Peace Summit, has plunged Britain into a foreign affairs crisis of the first order.
Lambasting the “neo-con ideologues who have learned nothing from history,” Gove has kept Britain out of the conflict, the consequences of which have included this current extended Brexit transition period.
The negotiations grind on. Rebecca Long-Bailey is making a poor fist of the Labour leadership. The new anti-war Gove is turning out to be surprisingly popular with voters – or less unpopular, at any rate.
And as his growing Tory fan club of Cabinet members and Government Ministers point out, Johnson is currently threatened by – yes, you guessed it: a potential leadership challenge.
Their briefings to journalists about the former Prime Minister include “loser”, “yesterday’s man”, “time marches on, old boy” and, of course, “poor old Boris”.
It is perhaps just as well that Johnson has found a distraction to engage him, in the form of the editorship of the Daily Telegraph, to which his brilliant and lucrative column has triumphantly returned.