Boris Johnson is entering his period of political wilderness. Just like his luminary, Winston Churchill in the 1930s, the former Mayor of London has been exiled to the fringes of the political arena, doomed to muse and fret at his previous time in the limelight. As again with Churchill, what may define his career is whether he can bounce back.
To read through Boris Johnson’s biography is to peruse upon the most Falstaffian of careers. With his traditional passage from prep school, to Eton and onto Oxbridge, Boris embodies an effete Establishment education. Through his notorious exploits with his later rival David Cameron at the infamous Bullingdon Club, and as president of the Oxford Union, his illustrious career was ready-made in the playground of the political kindergarten.
The boisterous persona and manifold misdemeanours have given him as many enemies as friends in Westminster, but his influence on the country as a whole over the last decade cannot be ignored. As one of the most prominent voices in favour of Brexit in 2016, and the face of the 2012 Olympics, Boris commands a loyal following and also a set of devoted foes. Whether he can return from the political doldrums and back into the corridors of power again will be the true hallmark of his career.
As his political aspirations begin to fade, Boris is also experiencing a tricky private life. The pressures of Westminster are known to have serious consequences for family life and Boris seems to be no exception, having separated from his second wife, Marina Wheeler. The personal strife may also be having an impact on his public life as his weekly Telegraph column, usually a soapbox for wholesome metaphors and classical similes, has become overly loquacious and monotonous of late.
With Theresa May unlikely to lead the party into the next general election, scheduled for 2022, a leadership election is just around the corner. Having had his chances crushed by former ally Michael Gove in the 2016 leadership election, next time around will make or break Boris’ lifelong dream of residing at No 10. As such a prominent face of the Leave campaign in 2016, he has one last chance to sell himself as a candidate who can look beyond 29 March. Otherwise, he risks oblivion from the political scene, with any future ministerial positions unlikely under many of the other potential candidates for leader. Voters may well feel that a new breed of politicians is needed, given the turmoil the present have presided over.
Boris has never shied away from the limelight, and that often entails controversy. His desperate craving for attention has earned him a reputation as a master provocateur through his piquant turn of phrase, and there is little chance of him losing his desire for attention. Whether anyone will continue to listen is another question.
For a period of time, Boris was the smiling face of the Tory Party. With the grim and austere nature of cuts and austerity under the Cameron administration, City Hall was given the more uplifting task of organising the Olympic Games and securing investment into the city. Boris used this to his advantage, positioning himself as the jaunty and ebullient Mayor who injected a much needed dose of charisma into politics. This mix of character and Etonian charm may have had its day, however.
Enoch Powell once said that ‘all political lives end in failure.’ Boris Johnson is at risk of crashing out not in the midst of a great scandal, but with a damp squib. As the political situations around him change at a fast rate, the faces in charge will also start to metamorphose into fresher faces to reinvigorate a wearisome Tory Party. It is hard to see Boris, who has been an ever-present character in the political scene for over a decade, becoming a member of the new elite. As a plethora of younger leadership candidates set up the Tory premiership souk, Boris is at risk of falling out of favour with the parliamentary party.
With the Conservatives awash with infighting, leadership plotting and bickering, the party grandees may be on the lookout for a new candidate – one who is ready and willing to pursue a new direction, away from Brexit. Boris Johnson has been a familiar face in British politics for a long time, but his brand may well have past its sell-by date. Boris may be recognisable to many all over the world, but his once reliable and committed fan-base may be dwindling.
Unlike when Churchill managed to come to power in 1940, the current national situation is not calling for a great warmonger or exceptional orator. Any future leader will have to go to the party and eventually face the electorate. Boris has one last chance to prove that he is credible material for his long-desired job at No 10.