Boris Johnson is leaving office with the same dignity he brought to it: none. I’ve seen more elegant prolapses. Having spent 36 hours on the run from what other people know as consequences, Downing Street’s Raoul Moat was finally smoked out of his storm drain on Thursday, having awoken that morning with what one aide described portentously as a “moment of clarity”. I mean, he’d lost 57 ministers? And been booed everywhere from the steps of St Paul’s to the cricket? Hard to know how much more clarity could have been offered to this big-brain, short of a plane flying over Downing Street trailing a banner reading U WANT PICKING UP IN THE MORNING PAL? This is the version of Jaws where the shark eats the mayor, and the entire beach is rooting for the shark.
They got Al Capone on tax evasion; they got Al Johnson on evasion. Character is fate, and the prime minister was undone by his lifelong pathological inability to tell the truth. Johnson’s ridiculously graceless “resignation” speech ran the gamut from pettiness to miscast victimhood – a sort of Bozzymandias, where the vainglory stood in painfully unfortunate contrast to the fact it was all lying in ruins around him. As the boos threatened to overwhelm his delivery, it was clear that what would satisfy the crowds was him being made to do a walk of shame, like some Blobby Cersei Lannister. (Same hairdo.) Failing that, he should have been wheeled out of Downing Street in the booze suitcase.
I saw that preposterous old tit David Mellor running towards a TV camera to claim Johnson’s downfall was a tragedy “worthy of Shakespeare”, which makes you realise the writer Shakespeare could have been if only he’d realised making Falstaff king would have been the banter option, and the best way not to Get Agincourt Done. Watching Johnson fail to play Henry V for the past three years has been like watching the lift-music version of Laurence Olivier have a crack at the role. The sort of prime minister that makes people leave reviews like “Amazon, why is it not possible to give zero stars?”
Still, Johnson always said he didn’t want to be a one-term prime minister. He will now not be a one-term prime minister. We’ll return to him later – but first, let’s have a look at some of the runners and riders competing for control of the sunlit uplands. Remember: make like Perseus, and only look at them in your rear-view shield.
Ben Wallace: Ben once fumed on Twitter that Michael Gove would be Theon Greyjoy “by the time I am finished with him”. Then again, maybe it would actually be quite popular to run on a promise to relieve the Conservative party of its penises.
Suella Braverman: Literally might as well run for leadership of Starfleet. Or Mensa.
Liz Truss: The risk is that Liz looks quite sane next to Suella, in the way that Marilyn Manson would look like a 10 next to the Demogorgon.
Rishi Sunak: Along with Javid, once described The Rise of Skywalker as a “great night out”, and therefore should be immediately disqualified on grounds of judgment. Failed to even persuade his own wife to pay him tax – though that’s not mentioned in the campaign video he just dropped, which goes big on something called “paytriotism”. Currently joint favourite, naturally.
Penny Mordaunt: The other current favourite, reinforcing the notion that the less you know about these people, the better they look.
Sajid Javid: How madly overvalued is British political commentary? Well, we elected a newspaper columnist to run the entire country, and Javid’s resignation speech was routinely described by professionals who apparently watched it as “powerful” and “devastating”, when he fluffed his big lines and was more wooden than the Commons panelling. Still: a chance to give his previous non-dom status the attention Rishi Sunak’s wife’s non-dom status deprived it of when it emerged earlier this year.
Tom Tugendhat: Will be hoping the Conservative party could learn to be as pleased with him as he frequently appears with himself.
Nadhim Zahawi: One of three secretaries of state for education to have served under Johnson this week alone, Zahawi accepted his current position of chancellor with suspicious alacrity, considering it was like being promoted to ship’s purser on the Titanic 10 minutes after the ballroom had filled with water. I can’t wait to find out more about Zahawi’s business dealings – and feel we certainly shall do.
Jeremy Hu: Sorry, I got bored before I finished typing his name. Arguably an electoral problem.
Grant Shapps: The spreadsheet king of Welwyn Hatfield, but could split his vote with one of his many aliases.
Steve Baker: Living testament to the ancient Conservative principle that they’ve always got a worse idea up their sleeve. Should wrestle with the question of how his just God can permit him.
Priti Patel: Somehow yet to realise it won’t take a wave machine to sink this boat.
Back to Johnson, though, whose farewell speech demanded a single facetious question: “Will you be having a leaving do, mate?” The answer, amazingly, is: yes. Apparently one of the reasons Johnson wants to cling on as caretaker, taking no big decisions, is because he and his wife are having a huge belated wedding party at Chequers later this month. Liggers to the last.
The outcry has forced them to seek a new venue – but only because they were found out. It’s like some especially grotesque version of the butterfly effect. How many Britons’ lives will be affected, probably for the worse, by some dead duck’s determination to hang around for his wedding party? In the worst economic crisis for generations, how might some struggling people’s existences be made worse by this guy’s attempt to sneak past Theresa May’s number of days in office? What care, precisely, is being taken by this caretaker? Wedding parties, days-in-office here or there – what desperately small and pathetic ambitions these are. And how accurately they reflect the psychopathic political character of a man who never had a single belief in anything other than his own advancement.
If you want a mildly consoling glimpse of Johnson’s long prime ministerial afterlife, once his memoirs have sold (and sold well), then picture him being slapped awake by his handlers in some six-star Malaysian spa hotel, then trundled down to the conference anteroom to sit with other speakers, like Al Gore and some sex case from the World Bank, before going on stage to do his 500th rendition of The Speech. £120,000 a pop; Raging Bull-style weight gain and gnawing despair come as standard.
Ultimately, though, the disappointments and desolation are all ours. It was Johnson’s world; we now have to live in it. It’s quite sweet that people still talk of a “realignment”. I don’t mean to cavil, but what the hell is “aligned” here? The UK will now have had four prime ministers in just over six years. It’s a rolling mess, a joke to much of the world. The only thing you can really align yourself with is the view that it can always get even worse and even more chaotic. Send in the clowns. Ah, don’t bother. They’re here.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
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