I found it interesting that Theresa May sounded more assured, warmer and more confident when delivering her resignation speech than she had sounded in years. The professional politician, whatever you thought of that iteration of May and I was never particularly a fan, was back for one last go. The office of prime minister had obviously vastly diminished her somehow; it was as if she was always an actor trying to play the part of the PM and never quite managing to get there.
Now that her premiership is finally – finally! – coming to a close, it’s easier for me to see how much of a shadow Boris cast over her entire premiership. He was always the one that could have done it better to the membership. It never mattered what he actually did in the meantime – how terrible he was at being Foreign Secretary, how he wrote in the Telegraph that May’s deal was the equivalent of everyone in the UK being slaves and then turning around and voting for it less than 48 hours later – for some reason, the Tory members still thought of him as their saviour.
Even the reason May was able to hang on so long in the face of crushing failure had almost everything to do with Boris; much of the parliamentary party put up with May’s madness for fear of Johnson becoming the prime minister instead. Although anything can happen in Conservative party leadership contests, Boris is still the man to beat.
Part of this is down to how excruciatingly terrible all of the other candidates that have any realistic shot at winning have been in pitching themselves to their electorate. In the speeches and media appearances from Raab, McVey, Truss and others over the past few weeks, none of them have addressed how they will succeed with Brexit where May has failed, never mind expanding on how they will fix the country or even, indeed, the Conservative party. Instead, we’ve had vapid slogans and the kind of “Brexit means Brexit” piffle that has stood in for political debate in the UK for the last three years. Boris has simply had to sit back and watch them all make a hash of it.
Even if Boris doesn’t get it, he’ll simply haunt the next Tory leader in the way he troubled May. As soon as they hit trouble – which, given where we are with the EU and Brexit, won’t take long – Boris will be held up as the guy who could have done it better by the Tory members, and even the Brexit Party followers, despite Farage’s (necessary) attempts to discredit him. Farage shouldn’t bother – if Boris hasn’t been devalued by now, nothing will do it. Except, perhaps, his own terrible premiership, which looks more and more likely.