Boris Johnson looked into the mirror and the World King looked back. Older but wiser. Forged again in the fire of adversity and now reborn. “In the footsteps of Dionysius, Osiris and yes, my friends, Bobby Ewing of Southfork,” as it said in the self-penned text he would read from shortly. “Back to the frontline, folks. Back to No.10 like Churchill in 1951. Like Winnie, only with more winning.” This stuff was gold. He had not lost the old magic.
The Big Dog was ready to woof again. Ready to serve again, ready to lead again, ready to take back control just when the country needed him most. Ready to face down, as his speech so hilariously put it, “Bad Karma Starmer and his barmy army of gloomsters, doomsters, wokeists, jokeists and ‘Britain’s-going-brokeists'”. As he rolled the words over in his mouth, he marvelled at what he called his skill with the quill. When the muse visited him like this, as so often and so lucratively it did, it was as if a stream of golden liquid was pouring forth from him onto the paper.
A lanyarded woman – young, blonde, highly promising – put her head around the door. “Two minutes, mister prime minister,” she said, then left him alone with his thoughts. In just a few moments he would walk through the door and face the people – his people – once again.
How had it come to this? It hadn’t been all Lizzie’s fault, he mused. A hard act to follow and big shoes to fill, but as the bills rose and the pound sank and the polls tanked she was on the brink just over a year after she took office. The 2023 party conference offered a last chance to save herself, and to this day no-one quite knew why she’d chosen to end her keynote speech the way she did (mischievous advice from a short-sighted man in Barnard Castle, some whispered).
There was the prime minister of Great Britain and (for now) Northern Ireland smashing an outsized, Union Jack-emblazoned mallet into a pile of European cheese as she declared a full trade war with the EU in front of the jubilant Tory faithful. “This. is. a. disgrace,” she intoned again and again with patriotic fervour, her eyes risen to the heavens in a paroxysm of national pride. Which meant she didn’t notice that, though it had dealt brutally and effectively with a few balls of Edam and a wheel of Gruyère, her weapon was producing a more scattershot effect when introduced at speed to the softer cheeses laid before her.
Splat! A large glob of Brie shot off the stage and into the cheering mouth of Sir Desmond Swayne, who gagged, fell to the floor and writhed around as his body tried to expel the delicious foreign object. Alas, the lividity of Sir Desmond’s normal purplish colouring prevented fellow conferencegoers from noticing that he had turned even more purple since he was choking. Those who looked Swayne’s way merely assumed the ruddy-faced dandy was literally rolling in the aisles at the PM’s daring display of defiance. In any case, almost all eyes were now on Therese Coffey, who had been spattered head-to-toe by ripe, pungent Epoisse de Bourgogne. Several days after the career-ending farce, as Sir Graham Brady spoke of receiving “more letters than Mount Pleasant sorting office” and a tearful Truss prepared her resignation speech, colleagues confessed that they dreamed of a time when they would wake up and not still smell Coffey.
So Truss was gone, but it was not yet time for the Big Dog to come back; not with stories about Russian influence and PPE cronyism and groping MPs continuing to leak (“There are only two things worse than alligators, ladies and gentlemen,” he’d say in his speech, “and they are allegations and alimony”). Besides, so many Conservative MPs seemed to want their own version of Captain Crasheroonie Snoozefest this time. Substance over soundbites, a communicator rather than a cartoon – these seemed to be the watchwords of the next leadership campaign.
The party members took all that on board, ignored it completely and made Jacob Rees-Mogg the new prime minister, beating his dull, details-obsessed challenger by a huge margin. Might JRM have made a great PM had it not been for the JCB? We will never know. Persuaded to revisit one of Johnson’s memorable 2019 campaign events by driving a digger through a wall of polystyrene bricks upon which had been written “Get Brexit Done Even Better”, the unfortunate Rees-Mogg, baffled by the huge device’s lack of a starting handle, missed the button that would have put the mighty machine into a slow, steady roll and instead sent it roaring at high speed towards his billionaire host, a leading Brexiteer and Tory donor.
Though David Davis attempted to persuade Rees-Mogg that having killed someone was no barrier to being prime minister – and Mark Francois thought it positively an advantage – the shaken PM opted to announce that he would step down once yet another leadership election had been held. Amid rumours of a growing dependence on laudanum, Rees-Mogg spent the rest of his premiership supine on the frontbench, wearing with a rictus grin (Rictus being the name of his eighth child, born just before the deathly digger drama).
This was the moment, and Big Dog made it known to the Men In Suits that the time for his return was right. Could a path be cleared with other potential candidates so that he might come back immediately, walk once again through that door and start sticking it to Captain Hindsight? An envoy from Central Office duly arrived. “We’ve canvassed the membership, and they want you back by a margin of nine-to-one,” he began. “Congratulations…”
The memory was interrupted by Lady Lanyard, who said, “it’s time”. He followed her out of the door, down a small corridor and then he was striding out alone towards the lectern. “Friends, non-Romans, countrymen and indeed countrywomen,” he began, “It’s so good to be back”.
He looked at his audience, swallowed hard and continued, “Back here at the Lincoln Holiday Inn for another meeting of the Eastern Nebraska Friends of Great Britain!” There was polite applause. Was it just him, or did the crowd seem rather thinner than on his appearance here last year, one of the first stops on his triumphantly coffer-swelling post-Downing Street US tour? And as his speech progressed, did they seem a little less rapt, a little more agitated? He heard someone whisper: “Is that boy makin’ the same speech as last time, about Winnie the Pooh comin’ back as prime minister?” “Ah cain’t tell,” came the reply, “but he ain’t even bothered to ruffle up his hair this time.”
He knew he should think of the money – there was a lot of it – but he couldn’t help thinking back to the man from Central Office’s visit. “Congratulations on winning the members over,” he’d said, “but the country is another matter. All our polling shows you’d lose in a landslide to Starmer. The MPs won’t serve under you – they’ve seen the focus groups, which are a disaster. The people still think you’re lazy, that you’re a liar, that you partied while people died, that you covered up for some of your friends and gave others influence, that if you came back all the scandal would start up again.” “But what about Brexit?” he asked. “Sorry old chap,” said the man from Central Office, getting up to leave. “The people have now realised that Brexit is a load of shit.”
The bitter memories flooding over him, the World King pressed on with his speech to the Nebraskans. The laughs seemed harder to come by this time, and he noticed a woman pointing towards his crotch and laughing – could it be that his flies were down, again? He stumbled and slurred into a joke about a Starmer chameleon – perhaps starting in on that second bottle in the dressing room had been a mistake?
But that is what Winston would have done. And none of this would matter when, like Churchill, he was returned to his former glory. They would see the error of their ways and beg him to come back. Not just yet, but soon.