What a peculiarly Tory and British drama it is. Boris Johnson, without question the most extraordinary politician of his generation, has the attributes to be a truly great prime minister.
But with the trickle of letters from Conservative MPs — ministers and backbenchers alike — publicly expressing an irretrievable loss of confidence in him becoming a flood, the clock seemed to be running inexorably down on his time in Downing Street.
Yet Mr Johnson is nothing if not a fighter. He’s clinging onto No10 with everything he has.
Having shaken up Britain for the better, he won’t give up power lightly, arguing that he has a direct mandate from 14 million voters.
Even a Cabinet delegation urging him to quit was dismissed with a flea in its ear (and a P45 in Michael Gove’s hand). Instead, the PM is digging in, drawing up a tax-cutting economic policy with new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, and vowing to deliver for families struggling with soaring bills.
With the chaos engulfing him, is this the miracle that can save the master escapologist?
‘Boris Johnson is nothing if not a fighter. He’s clinging onto No10 with everything he has’
His downfall would not only be a personal catastrophe, it would have a baleful effect on the entire country.
With his trademark optimism and buccaneering spirit, Mr Johnson set out a One Nation vision for transforming Britain’s fortunes.
What does it say about the febrile, politically deranged place Britain has become in 2022, where a leader with a thumping majority is the victim of a putsch from within his own side?
And equally, how absurd that the holder of the highest office in the land risks being toppled by events that are, compared with the seismic forces currently convulsing the world, essentially trivial?
Yes, the PM has made mistakes, misjudgments and misdemeanours. But let’s be honest, they have hardly been Watergate.
This sorry episode has all the hallmarks of one of Mr Johnson’s beloved classical Greek tragedies.
In that dramatic form, the hero always means well and the play usually begins with a string of successes. But because of shortcomings in his own character, he is eventually brought down — often by those he once regarded as friends.
There are distinct echoes of this in Mr Johnson’s betrayal. But there is one crucial difference.
‘In a toe-curlingly pompous piece of attention-seeking, Sajid Javid tried to mirror Geoffrey Howe’s devastating resignation statement in 1990 which helped to topple Margaret Thatcher’
Instead of resulting in catharsis, this drama is almost guaranteed to end in bitter tears of acrimony and recrimination.
One of the ‘friends’ trying to deliver the fatal blow was, of course, former Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
In a toe-curlingly pompous piece of attention-seeking, he tried to mirror Geoffrey Howe’s devastating resignation statement in 1990 which helped to topple Margaret Thatcher.
So elevated was Javid’s moral high horse that he must have been suffering vertigo.
In reality, this was a transparent bid to portray himself as a leadership contender — a squeaky-clean alternative to a compromised PM.
It was nauseating sanctimony from a man who so patently wears his ambition on his sleeve.
In his peroration, he insisted: ‘I’m not one of life’s quitters.’
Pull the other one, Mr Javid! Twice he has flounced out of a Cabinet post in a huff — this time, disgracefully, as post-Covid NHS waiting lists hit record levels.
And speaking of dereliction of duty, what kind of Chancellor was his fellow Cabinet conspirator Rishi Sunak to effectively down tools during the worst cost-of-living crisis for a generation?
The truth is, Mr Johnson stands head and shoulders above almost all his would-be assassins.
‘The final straw was being caught dissembling over the disgraced ex-Tory Chris Pincher (pictured right, with Johnson) the bibulous party whip with a creepy penchant for allegedly groping young men’
Compared with the mountains he has scaled, their combined achievements are little more than molehills.
Just 31 months ago, he landed the Conservatives their biggest landslide for three decades after persuading millions of traditional Labour voters that he was their man.
In doing so, he vanquished Corbynism — saving the country from mutating into a nightmarish socialist dystopia. Then, in the teeth of opposition from almost the whole Remain-dominated British Establishment, Mr Johnson fulfilled the explicit will of the British people by delivering Brexit.
If that weren’t enough, he triumphantly guided the country through the worst pandemic in a century — despite damn nearly dying of Covid. And liberated from the sclerotic EU, the PM masterminded our own world-beating jabs programme, allowing us to be first in the world to lift lockdown and re-ignite our economy.
There is, of course, plenty of red ink in the deficit column of Mr Johnson’s political ledger.
His dithering when trying to save Covid lothario Matt Hancock from the sack. The Owen Paterson debacle. Accusations that he misled his own standards adviser over ‘Wallpapergate’.
And while Mr Johnson’s own £50 fine for breaking lockdown laws (a colleague brought him a birthday cake which never left its Tupperware box) seemed harsh, the indulgence of drunken revelry in No 10 while the rest of the country was forbidden from even comforting dying loved ones was deeply regrettable.
‘If Tory MPs succeed in removing Boris, what happens next? Whom would they replace Mr Johnson with? Could the successor defeat Sir Keir Starmer?’
The final straw was being caught dissembling over the disgraced ex-Tory Chris Pincher, the bibulous party whip with a creepy penchant for allegedly groping young men. What a squalid hill to die on!
The truth is, many of these problems would not have blown up had Mr Johnson been honest in the first place and not tried to cover them up.
After Partygate, the PM promised to shake up No10 to prevent any more self-inflicted wounds. Yet lessons have clearly not been learned.
Of course, no one voted for Boris because they thought he was a model of saintly probity.
Even so, it is one of the great mysteries of the cosmos that someone so intelligent could blunder into the same mistakes over and over again. One reason is the failure to put in place a properly functioning structure around him to exert control and discipline on the party and Downing Street. Throw in his own lack of attention to detail, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
These scandals have undoubtedly damaged the Tories. Hammerings in four recent by-elections stand testament to that.
Now hordes of Conservative MPs have lost patience. With so many resigning as ministers or demanding Mr Johnson quit, it’s hard to see how he can form a working Government.
In many respects, Mr Johnson is entitled to feel embattled. For years, he has been sniped at by Remainers desperate to drag us back into the EU’s orbit.
Sky, ITN and the BBC have become less impartial observers of events than political activists determined to do their bit to overthrow a democratically elected prime minister. And they are aided by the civil service ‘Blob’, which despises Mr Johnson almost as much as they do.
But in the midst of a painful cost-of-living crunch, war in Europe and a migration crisis (and with the Tories only a handful of points behind Labour during the mid-term) this is no time for the party to be hamstrung by in-fighting.
If Tory MPs succeed in removing Boris, what happens next? Whom would they replace Mr Johnson with? Could the successor defeat Sir Keir Starmer?
And are they sure they aren’t simply inadvertently jeopardising the party’s chances of winning the next election — and letting in a Labour-led coalition of chaos?
That would see the UK disastrously shackled to a runaway train of ruinous economics, votes for 16-year-olds, the demise of the Union and the woke train of gender politics.
Whoever the Tory leader is, they must champion authentic Conservative policies — tax cuts, free-market enterprise, using the benefits of Brexit to create a nimble modern economy, and strong borders — to defeat the leaden-footed Starmer.
This is not just a psychodrama surrounding Mr Johnson. It is an existential crisis for the Tories. It is no exaggeration to say the country’s very future hangs in the balance.