The phenomenon that was Boris Johnson is moving into the background. A new face will take his position, but never his place, for he is a force of nature. A return to ordinary politics is a disappointment.
His tenure was shorter than we could have imagined, though average for a Prime Minister, over the ages. At least he outlasted Theresa May, whom I had though of as ‘May-fly’. Another two weeks and he would have beaten Henry Addington – now that puts me in mind of something.
We need PMs with character. That is not to say that Boris was always a good thing – his chaotic nature enabled him to achieve many things that others would have been unable to do from their own, constricted outlooks, but it also prevented him from getting a grip when that was needed. (Often it needed a grip on the throats of his spads, if truth be told.) The abilities of the new face are unknown but I can predict that if she is too soft, the staff will run rings around her and bring her down, and if hard enough, she will be accused of bullying. (Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, Dolly assures us.)
All this is to come, and the clock is running to a general election likely to be held on 2 May 2024.
If it is Liz Truss as we expect, she has come a long way since her childhood in Renfrewshire. I believe she would be the first Norfolk MP to become Prime Minster since Robert Walpole himself, the first Prime Minister of all. I know her constituency – I used to have family there – and it is a charming area, in an eccentric county. Norwich I know well too – once second only to London amongst the cities of the land, it is the only town of any size in the county. I have drowsed in the Norfolk towns like Diss (not in Liz’s constituency) with its lake and lost-in-time appearance: such tiny towns as Diss are the stuff of Norfolk.
It would still have been nice to overhaul Henry Addington, a history lesson in himself. He succeeded William Pit the Younger: Pitt who bestrode his age, who restored the confidence of a depressed kingdom, made us ready for the challenge of the generation and mended the country’s finances to do so. Boris with his boundless enthusiasm was doing the same in his own way, apart from the finances, which he has inadvertently wrecked. Then Pitt retired and handed over to Addington, and the wits wrote:
“Pitt is to Addington, as London is to Paddington”
(This was long before trains, stations or loquacious bears – Paddington was an insignificant village outside London, and Addington could no more aspire to replace Pitt than Paddington village could equal London.)
To be fair to Addington, he had his own abilities, amongst which he readied the country’s defences and finances for the war which Napoleon was preparing. But he was not Pitt.
The next year and a half have many challenges, many of which will bring failures, but many successes, we trust, if the government machine yields to the directions given to it (not always a given). There are also opportunities for failure. Mrs O’Leary, or Mr Sunak, whichever wins through, will be busy, and may succeed, and if it is the lady in question, good for Norfolk. It is not normal for Norfolk to propel one to such high office, but in the Paisley schoolgirl it may have provided a force for success.
Even so, I keep worrying that:
Boris is to Liz, as London is to Diss.
I would like be wrong.
Henry Addington served for three years, until overwhelmed by criticism of his perceived failure so secure good terms in a treaty with our European neighbour. When he resigned, Pitt returned.
- By Boris Johnson:
- The Borisaurus: The Dictionary of Boris Johnson by Simon Walter
- William Pitt The Elder: a biography by William Hague
- Pistols at Dawn: Two Hundred Years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown by John Campbell
- Politics in the Age of Fox, Pitt and Liverpool by John W Derry
- An Utterly Impartial History of Britain by John O’Farrell
- 1000 Years of Annoying the French by Stephen Clarke