Wednesday, September 21 2022

After three years of turmoil, scandal and a long period of purgatory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will finally leave Downing Street on Tuesday, leaving behind a job he’s coveted since childhood – but few think it will fade away quietly in political obscurity.

Johnson has told friends he could make millions in his first year out of office, and his allies believe he could return once he has, in the words of his ally Lord Jonathan Marland, “put hay in the attic”.

Although he is out of power, Johnson’s allies believe that as a Conservative backbench MP, with a host of media platforms and a strong and strident base among party activists, he will continue to exercise great influence on British politics.

“It is no secret that he was not good at being prime minister and did not always enjoy the burdens of power,” said a senior Tory MP. “Released from duty, Boris will really speak his mind.”

If Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is named Prime Minister next Monday, as widely expected, her team is aware that managing her predecessor will be a tricky business.

The historical parallel the Truss team fears is that of Sir John Major, who succeeded Margaret Thatcher in 1990 after she was ousted by her party.

Major’s position was undermined by a series of high-profile interventions from Thatcher, who remarked that she was a “very good backseat driver”. Major later said his behavior was “intolerable”.

A Truss ally said: “Are we worried about the ride in the back? Yes. All we have to do is focus on delivery and I think people will start to come out of the Boris era, or so we hope.

A campaign insider said Truss’ decision to offer senior cabinet posts to Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries was part of an effort to “tighten up” the incumbent prime minister’s closest supporters. “It’s harder for them to oust Liz if they’re in the cabinet,” they said.

Johnson’s friends believe he has yet to fully come to terms with losing power and harbors ambitions of a political comeback. His fervent critic, former minister Rory Stewart, said he would be “like Berlusconi or Trump”.

Johnson would prefer parallels to Sir Winston Churchill, his political star, who staged a remarkable comeback after losing the 1945 general election and returned to number 10 five years later.

But there’s a big catch: Johnson is being investigated by House of Commons privileges committees over whether he misled MPs during the party scandal around lockdown rallies Covid-19. If found in contempt of Parliament, he could face a suspension from the Commons.

If Liz Truss is named prime minister next Monday, as expected, her team are aware that managing her predecessor will be a tricky business © Phil Noble/Reuters

If Johnson is suspended for more than 10 days, it may trigger a “recall petition.” If more than 10% of his voters in the constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip sign the petition, a by-election will be held. Johnson could lose, thwarting any hopes of a comeback until the next general election, due in 2024.

Johnson’s supporters have sought to undermine the privileges committee’s investigation, describing it as a “kangaroo court”. The Prime Minister sought legal advice from the barrister and his counterpart, Lord David Pannick, who said the inquiry was “fundamentally flawed”.

Two of Johnson’s closest allies have privately urged him to leave Parliament immediately to avoid the inquiry, leaving open the possibility of a return to the Commons later.

One said: “If Boris said he’s gone now he can easily come back any time he wants. There are a number of MPs who would make way for him if he wanted to come back before the next elections.

Leaving parliament now would also mean Johnson could find a safer seat, as Tory strategists believe his constituency could swing to Labor in the next election.

Meanwhile, he is expected to rely on the basic perks of former prime ministers of well-paid speeches and bulky book advances.

The prime minister’s personal finances were spotty at best during his tenure, but after he resigns, talking agents expect Johnson to command up to $250,000 for engagements, particularly in the United States and Asia. Old friends said the after-dinner circuit would be a quick and easy route “to creditworthiness.”

A bigger decision for Johnson, whose political rise has been funded by his earnings as a newspaper columnist and author, is how best to ply his writing craft.

Johnson told friends there was a Fleet Street bidding war for his services, pitting his former employer against the The telegraph of the day with their big rivals Daily mailwhose editors brilliantly backed Johnson, and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

Journalists in the Daily Mail’s newsroom recently joked about “what a poor prick” will have to wait until late for his columns – a reference to his late delivery of copy.

But a seasoned media executive thought that after Downing Street Johnson might be reluctant to immediately return to the grind of a column and might have bigger aspirations in mind. “Why be a columnist when you can be an editor? ” He asked.

Although Johnson ran The viewer magazine, going straight from an editor’s desk to an editor’s chair would be unprecedented. While former cabinet ministers Richard Crossman and George Osborne continued to edit Fleet Street titles in their political life after death, no former prime minister did.

Before deciding on his long-term career path, Johnson will have to make his biggest financial choice: where to put his memoirs. While unlikely to rival those of the Obamas, Clintons or even Tony Blair, publishing executives say there will likely be a fierce battle for rights, with a seven-figure lead.

Hodder, Johnson’s longtime publisher, already has a claim on the Prime Minister after advancing him at least £88,000 around seven years ago for the unfinished Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius. Murdoch’s publishing house HarperCollins is also in the running. An auction has not started yet.

“Boris might find life a lot easier and more profitable out of the office, especially with the shitshow coming up,” a longtime fan said. “But in his heart, I doubt he’ll ever think it’s really over.”

Downing Street declined to comment.


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