STEPHEN GLOVER: This could be Boris Johnson’s finest hour

STEPHEN GLOVER: Just like his hero Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson is rackety, feckless and gaffe-prone. But this could also be HIS finest hour

Today, barring accidents, Boris Johnson will be pronounced the winner of the Tory leadership contest. 

Tomorrow afternoon, he will be driven to Buckingham Palace, where he will kiss hands with the Queen. He will be Prime Minister.

Like his hero, Winston Churchill, he has lived all his adult life yearning for this prize. Like his hero, he has been written off countless times. 

It is hard to see how any politician can lead us out of the mess we’re now in and bring our country together again. Can Boris save us? Or will he be driven ignominiously out of No 10 in months, even weeks? Boris is pictured in London yesterday

And, like his hero, he assumes power at a critical moment in our history.

The dangers are obviously not as great as they were when Churchill became PM on May 10, 1940, with the humiliating evacuation of Dunkirk and the capitulation of France, Britain’s main ally, only weeks away. But they are bad enough.

Flawed

Britain is divided and isolated. We are being driven mad by Brexit. One might almost say that, although Churchill’s task in 1940 was enormous, at least he knew what he had to do. 

It is hard to see how any politician can lead us out of the mess we’re now in and bring our country together again.

My point is that Churchill has been deified, and so his faults and all the rude things said and thought about him by members of his own party, as well as by Labour, have been airbrushed out. Might Boris also succeed despite being written off by nearly half the country and bien pensant intellectuals?

Can Boris save us? Or will he be driven ignominiously out of No 10 in months, even weeks? 

Like many, I ask myself these questions constantly. And I must admit — again, I suspect, like many people — that there is no easy answer. But I hope.

One way to weigh Boris’s weaknesses and strengths is to strip away the layers of gilt that have been lovingly applied to the figure of Churchill and to see the magnificent wartime leader for the flawed human being he was.

I don’t suggest that Boris is remotely equal to his hero. But when considering our new Prime Minister’s failings (which have been catalogued by his many detractors), it is comforting to recall that Churchill also came to the highest office bearing a long charge sheet.

Tomorrow afternoon, he will be driven to Buckingham Palace, where he will kiss hands with the Queen. He will be Prime Minister. Like his hero, Winston Churchill, he has lived all his adult life yearning for this prize. Like his hero, he has been written off countless times

He had been responsible for the Dardanelles fiasco in World War I, in which nearly 50,000 Allied lives were lost. His stint as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Twenties was a near disaster.

Always his judgment was being impugned: over his bigoted opposition to virtual home rule in India in the Thirties, and his rash championing of Edward VIII during the 1936 abdication crisis when public opinion was firmly against the King marrying American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

It’s true that, by 1940, Churchill’s political career stretched back over four decades, whereas Boris’s has been much briefer, and so he has had less scope for political gaffes. 

In May 1940, Winston Churchill was opposed by a knot of conspirators in his own party, such as Lord Halifax (above) and Rab Butler, who wanted to put out feelers to Hitler via the Italian leader Benito Mussolini and sue for peace. His most deadly adversaries were on his own side

Still, he managed to pack in quite a few during his two-year spell as Foreign Secretary.

In his biography of Winston Churchill, Boris describes the great man as ‘eccentric’ and ‘over the top’ — words that could as well be used of himself. ‘Rackety’ would be another way of describing what they have in common.

Unlike Boris, Churchill had no appetite for extra-marital sex, but he drank much more prodigiously. He was far more feckless with money, though he earned even greater amounts as a newspaper columnist.

In May 1940, many in the parliamentary Tory Party regarded the country’s new leader as flashy, unreliable and lacking in judgment. 

Rab Butler — then a junior minister and, much later, very nearly Prime Minister — described Churchill as ‘the greatest adventurer of modern political history’ and ‘a half-breed American’.

Sound familiar? My point is that Churchill has been deified, and so his faults and all the rude things said and thought about him by members of his own party, as well as by Labour, have been airbrushed out. 

Might Boris also succeed despite being written off by nearly half the country and bien pensant intellectuals?

There is another similarity. In May 1940, Winston Churchill was opposed by a knot of conspirators in his own party, such as Lord Halifax and Rab Butler, who wanted to put out feelers to Hitler via the Italian leader Benito Mussolini and sue for peace. 

His most deadly adversaries were on his own side. And so it is with Boris. The Tory Party is in disarray. All discipline has broken down. 

Philip Hammond has petulantly said he will resign as Chancellor to avoid being sacked, while Boris-hating Sir Alan Duncan childishly quit his job as a Foreign Office minister in the midst of a worsening international crisis involving Iran. Where is duty?

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith, who, in a couple of days, could be Deputy Prime Minister in a Johnson administration, publicly accuses the Government — and, by implication, Jeremy Hunt, Boris’s rival and Foreign Secretary — of a ‘major failure’ over its Iran policy.

Respect

Actually, the treachery within the Tory Party is even more rampant than it was in May 1940, when many MPs who were suspicious of Churchill at least showed a measure of respect for their new leader and were prepared to give him a chance.

Sir Alan Duncan has tried to table an emergency Commons motion on whether Johnson should become Prime Minister. Fortunately, he was rebuffed by Speaker John Bercow, who was sensible for once in his life.

Churchill is pictured with his wife Clementine in their garden at their family home.  In May 1940, many in the parliamentary Tory Party regarded the country’s new leader as flashy, unreliable and lacking in judgment

Despite this setback, ultra Conservative Remainers (perhaps including erstwhile Eurosceptic Mr Hammond) may try to bring down Boris even before he starts talking to the EU.

An iron rule of politics is that voters abhor divided parties. A decisive early vote of No Confidence in Boris is almost bound to precipitate a general election, in which the Tories would be viewed as a fractious rabble who failed to honour the Leave vote in the referendum.

One difference between then and now: in May 1940, Churchill formed a coalition with Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, whereas Boris will confront Jeremy Corbyn, whose only concern is to achieve power so that he can unleash his Marxist experiment on Britain.

Ambition

Boris Johnson is pictured in his garden at his Oxfordshire cottage over the weekend. One way to weigh Boris’s weaknesses and strengths is to strip away the layers of gilt that have been lovingly applied to the figure of Churchill and to see the magnificent wartime leader for the flawed human being he was

Does our new Prime Minister have the political guile, force of personality and greatness of spirit to see off these threats and find his way through a bewildering maze to reach a reasonable accommodation with Brussels?

It is certainly a tall order. So it would be even for Winston Churchill, who, after all, proved himself a disappointing peacetime leader after he was returned to office in 1951.

But Boris, facing as he does the most perilous state of affairs that has bedevilled any prime minister since Churchill in 1940, can reasonably take comfort in the knowledge that his hero was prematurely written off by critics later forced to eat their words.

Maybe he will rise above the pygmies planning to bring him down. 

For all his faults, he has one striking advantage that he definitely shares with the wartime leader. He has craved the highest office in the land since he was a child.

All-encompassing ambition is rare, even in leading politicians. It amounts almost to a mystical sense of personal destiny. Churchill certainly had it. 

He wrote later of that moment in May 1940: ‘I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.’

Such rare men are difficult to stop. Is Boris one of them? I don’t know. But it seems to me his obsessively wanting to lead our country probably constitutes the best hope we have that he will make a decent job of it.

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