C: Pippa Fowles / Crown Copyright CC BY-SA 2.0 https://bit.ly/3CvFnmg

Let’s face it: They should have kept Boris

There’s a series of scenes in the excellent 2005 HBO series, ROME, where the conspirators have just succeeded in their plan to assassinate Julius Caesar, masterfully played by Ciarán Hinds. The tyrant is dead. Liberty is restored.

And nobody, upon nobody, knows what to do next. So confused are the plotters that, in this entirely fictionalised version of that ancient story, the only person who comes up with any semblance of a plan is Caesar’s 13 year old nephew, Octavian.

The real story, history tells us, was not vastly different – Rome’s republicans rid themselves of a tyrant, and in his place, created a power vacuum. Within the year, the city had devolved into a bloody era of civil war which in time ended in the deaths of all the great leaders of the age: Cicero, Brutus, Cassius, Mark Anthony: every last one of them copped it in the end. The lesson, I think, is straightforward – if you kill the king, you’d best have an agreed heir to take the throne.

We’ve perhaps been so blinded by the narrative that Boris Johnson was some kind of chaotic, terrible, leader – a position which is as close in Ireland as we now have to a national profession of faith – that we have forgotten the situation in which his country, and his party, found themselves when he resigned. The Conservatives were behind in the polls by between five, and ten per cent. That figure is now, in some polls, forty per cent. The UK’s budget, after covid, was not especially healthy, but the markets remained broadly confident in the Government. There was a taint of sleaze and distrust around Johnson, but not the utter chaos that has followed in his wake.

I write, often, about the groupthink that happens in Irish politics, where TDs in the Leinster House bubble tend to think that what is important, and what was on Morning Ireland this morning, are one and the same thing. The “Westminster Bubble” might well be worse: Over the summer, we watched the Conservative Party talk itself into a decision to change its leader, through the medium of a UK broadcast media which largely hates it and desires nothing more than it desires the reversal of the hated Tory Brexit. We then saw discipline fall apart, as the civil war revealed itself.

One wing of the British Conservative Party is not really “conservative” in any meaningful sense. They are British Fine Gaelers: They believe in things like stability, and modernization, and managing change rather than resisting it, and, above all, keeping the markets happy. Then there’s another, revolutionary wing – these are the people who are deeply suspicious of global institutions and sceptical of immigration and much more comfortable with social conservatism than their colleagues are. They’re the Brexiteers. This division has existed in the conservative party since the days of Margaret Thatcher. In recent weeks, we’ve finally seen how much the two wings utterly and completely despise each other. Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are polar opposites. Neither of them, in retrospect, could ever have held the party together.

There is, of course, a self-serving narrative out there, now, in the open: That this mess is what Brexit hath wrought. If one believes that, then there is nothing that I could write here that could dissuade. But I’ll make two points anyway: The first is that if the European Union has some magic power to imbue a country with political stability, then how does one explain Italy, which appears to get a new Prime Minister every five minutes, whether inside the EU or out?

The second is this: It’s’ quite the three-card trick, isn’t it, for the UK’s Remainers to openly devote themselves, as they have done, to tearing apart every UK Government since 2016, and then to blame the resultant instability on Brexit. If Brexit is the proximate cause, then Remainers must take their fair share of the blame. There have been two sides in the UK’s Brexit culture war, and just because the Irish media insist that one is good, and the other the enemy, does not make it true. British Remainers desperately want an election today, because they think their friends might win it. Just three years ago, UK Remainers went to court to try and block an election, because they thought they might not win it, and indeed, they were proved right on that score when the election happened anyway.

But it’s hard to credit the sheer cynicism: prolonging political stability in 2019 was more important than the wrong people winning. So, spare me, please, the self-serving nonsense about how the UK can’t go on like this, or whatever. These people would have kept a Government in office with no majority, rather than face the voters. Keir Starmer included. Indeed, he was a ringleader of that effort. How quickly we forget the things that might be inconvenient to recall.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the only really logical thing for Tory MPs to do now is to bring back Boris Johnson. You do not have to like him to agree with this, you simply need to recognise that three things are true.

First, unlike any other candidate, Johnson was the leader who won the support of the British people at the last election. They voted for him. If they made a mistake in doing so, well, that’s what the next election is for.

Second, Johnson may not command the unified support of his party – but nor will any other candidate. Johnson at least has a plausible claim to lead it, though. Any other leader will lack any mandate, of any kind, from any body, having been turned to in desperation as the third choice.

Third, he has the experience of actually having been Prime Minister, until recently. The Markets know him, and what he will, and will not, do. We’ve heard nothing as much as we’ve heard about the markets in recent weeks. If they’ve been spooked, then this is a quick way to un-spook them – a known quantity.

In fact, they should never have gotten rid of Boris. A house divided will not stand. If you don’t believe me, just watch House of the Dragon on Sky Atlantic, and see what happens when another blonde bombshell, poor old Viserys Targaryen, isn’t around anymore. Unlike with Caesar, or any other dead Monarch, the Tories can still undo their mistake.

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