In 2019, Boris Johnson secured the Conservatives’ biggest majority for 40 years and appeared set for a decade in power.
“And yet, today, he is not only not Prime Minister, but he is no longer a Member of Parliament. His political career seems dead,” said UnHerd’s political editor Tom McTague.
Freed from the shackles of parliamentary oversight – and the need to declare outside earnings in the register of members’ interests – “now he can concentrate on honing his legacy”, said Sky News’s political editor Sam Coates. Not just “the 2019 election, Brexit, vaccine and leading the world on Ukraine, but also upending the way politics works in this country”.
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As the last few days have proved, Johnson still looms large in Westminster and in the wider country – so what will he do now?
“The afterlife of a modern British prime minister can go one of two ways,” according to the i news site’s Simon Kelner. “You can be defenestrated by the electorate and then go on to make a large amount of money. Or you can be defenestrated by your own party and then go on to make a large amount of money.”
Johnson is already reaping the rewards. The MPs’ register of interests revealed that since leaving Downing Street he can command more than £250,000 for a single speech. Writing for Bloomberg, Martin Ivens estimated that the former PM has earned more than £6.5 million from public-speaking engagements in the last year alone.
“Although he loves the money, he might soon get bored,” said Ivens. It’s nice being “feted abroad”, especially in the Ukraine where he gets a “hero’s welcome for his full-throated defence of that nation”. But Johnson may miss the applause back home. “Like Oscar Wilde, he is a self-publicist who believes there’s nothing worse than being talked about, other than not being talked about,” Ivens concluded.
Back to the books
Along with his recently announced memoir – which will reportedly earn the former Tory leader more than £6m, according to The Independent – quitting Parliament may also give Johnson time to finish a different book, which has been years in the writing.
He first agreed to write Shakespeare: The Riddle of Genius in 2015, receiving an advance of at least £88,000. His publisher Hodder and Stoughton UK hoped the book “would bring his ‘characteristic curiosity, verve, and wit’ to retelling the life of Britain’s greatest author”, said the Financial Times.
The deal was rumoured to be close to £500,000, but “by the time the book eventually appears, almost a decade is likely to have passed”, said The Guardian.
Return to journalism
While serving as London mayor, Johnson had a second job writing a column for The Daily Telegraph that reportedly earned him £250,000 a year – an amount that he once famously dismissed as “chicken feed”.
He had to quit the role when he became foreign secretary in 2016, but was immediately rehired by the paper on a salary of £275,000 a year when he left the cabinet two years later.
“Under Johnson, government and the press merged and became interchangeable,” wrote Peter Oborne in Prospect magazine. And after a successful career as a journalist, the former PM will “probably return to newspapers”, predicted the veteran broadcaster.
… or something bigger?
Writing might be Johnson’s “first love”, said Laura Kuenssberg for the BBC, “but might there be something bigger?”
“By chance his old newspaper the Telegraph has just come up for sale and – by chance – its former editor Will Lewis has just been made a knight by Johnson. Is there, by chance, the possibility they might be part of a bid to take it over?” she asked.
Discussions may “only be at the stage of ideas being scribbled down on paper”, said Kuenssberg, but were he to take on a bigger role, perhaps as editor, it “might be the Conservatives’ worst nightmare”.
Return to politics
In deciding to stand down rather than fight a recall petition and by-election, Johnson “has walked off the pitch rather than being red carded by a Sunday league ref”, said former Tory MP James Duddridge in The Sun.
This is “the conclusion of a chapter, not the end of the book”, he added, predicting a political comeback “maybe even before the next election”.
Johnson himself has suggested he would return, telling the Daily Express this week: “We must fully deliver on Brexit and on the 2019 manifesto. Nothing less than absolute victory and total Brexit will do – and as the great Arnold Schwarzenegger said, I’ll be back.”
Yet even if he were to manage a return to the Commons, “there is no conceivable path to him becoming leader again”, said Coates at Sky News.
Johnson had “huge potential to create, but also to destroy – his extraordinary majority, his reputation, and the party he led too”, said the BBC’s Kuenssberg. “He must now decide what to do with the power that he still retains. And his old party must decide how much attention it wants to pay.”
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