With Jacob Rees-Mogg now the bookies’ favourite to be the next Tory leader, 7-1 is too good a price not to have a Christmas bet on Boris Johnson making perhaps his biggest comeback yet, just as many are writing him off.
My guess is that not being the front-runner to succeed Theresa May will suit Boris just fine for now. His recent trip to Iran did not immediately secure the release of British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. But with her court hearing postponed there is now “light at the end of the tunnel”.
Personally, I think Boris may yet pull off his greatest Houdini act yet in securing her release on “humanitarian grounds” (helped by a payment of £400 million to pay off an old government debt to Iran for Chieftain tanks).
We shall see. I am of the camp that believes that, should there be a Tory leadership contest before the next election, then Tory MPs (and not only those with small majorities) will vote on grounds of self-interest. That may well mean putting Boris’s name on the ballot sheet that goes to the party’s 150,000 members. Backed by Jacob Rees-Mogg – who would make an excellent Chancellor or Foreign Secretary – he could prove to be the leader of a formidable winning team, reaching out to floating voters in a way that no other Tory could.
Of course, Boris’s ability to win two mayoral elections and the Brexit vote has resulted in opprobrium being heaped on him by Left and Right. But both sides do so only because they fear him. When I bring up the personal attacks on Boris by fellow Tories with Rees-Mogg, he replies: “They are perhaps the ones within the party who realise how charismatic and popular Boris is. They think he must be neutralised because he is so popular. Boris is one of the few genuinely charismatic politicians of our age. There is an element of envy in the attacks on him. Some people wish they were as popular as Boris.”
In regards to the suggestion that the Johnson parliamentary stock is currently low, Rees-Mogg says that this is irrelevant right now as there is no election in sight. “There are some MPs who have never been fans of Boris who are still not fans,” he says. “But there are many who have never considered whether they are fans of Boris. And his stock will rise or fall depending on what people think of his electability. If you look at his success as Mayor of London and success with Brexit, he is the most popular electoral asset that the Conservatives have.
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