For his own sake and that of Britain, now is the time for Boris Johnson to leave at sunset | Max Hastings


Aat the end of The Magnificent Seven, the most delicious of all westerns, there’s a scene in which the wise old man from the Mexican village tells Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, “Your job is done. It was time for the farmers to take over. After which, the two shooters left on horseback, to massacre the criminals elsewhere.

We will reject skepticism as to whether Boris Johnson can plausibly be compared to Brynner or McQueen, but suggest now is the right time for the Prime Minister’s cronies to bring him the old Mexican’s proposal: “Your job is ended “. We could then return our governance to people willing to take an interest not in agriculture, but rather in boring things like keeping the gas on and making sure the kids go to school.

Also, how do we ensure that Britain continues to operate between now and Christmas, when the temporary visas for foreign truck drivers and turkey feeders expire? There is no immediate prospect of evicting the incumbent from Downing Street against his will, or possibly Ms Johnson’s.

It may be possible, however, to begin to convince the couple that their interests would be well served by an early bath. The Prime Minister could tell his many admirers that he has implemented Brexit and the Covid vaccination program and has avoided a post of Prime Minister Corbyn.

Whatever point of view we take on his case, he is assured of many pages of the history of the time. Only Nigel Farage was more influential in overhauling our policy. Johnson can resume his legitimate career as an artist. His memoirs, interspersed with the diaries he has certainly kept (much to the chagrin of anyone who has spoken to him in private since taking office) will be worth millions. He could explore new lands by becoming a dedicated family man.

Almost none of the above is meant to be facetious. If Johnson leaves soon, he can stay famous, get rich, and escape the prolonged descent that awaits him if he lingers, only to disappear under the flock of fowl returning to roost in Downing Street.

Who would follow? For many of us, Rishi Sunak seems the only acceptable answer. It is true that we still know relatively little about him, due to his rapid rise from Chief Reeve of Winchester, from obscure backbench MP to Chancellor. He would be handicapped by the inability to match Johnson’s welfare skills with all kinds and conditions of people. But he possesses a star quality, grace, dignity, integrity, sense of responsibility and seriousness that none of his cabinet colleagues can match. He’s not making fun of Johnny Foreigner. He was not a member of the Bullingdon club.

His most immediate and important task would be to appoint ministers for their competence, rather than simple loyalty to their boss. It would be foolish to claim that Tory MPs are full of waiting stars, but Jeremy Hunt and Tom Tugendhat would improve on Priti Patel and Nadine Dorries.

A habit has developed in the media, as well as in the country, of showing a courtesy towards the members of this government which is justified only by their possession of state offices and the mantra of shrugging the shoulders ” there is no alternative, “rather than any goal. evaluation of their performance.

Now it seems time to say: we can’t go on like this, with Sunday outings at the mercy of a figure like Grant Shapps. Johnson was fortunate enough to use last month’s cabinet changes to replace proven incompetents with people more worthy of their office. Instead, he chose to mix up the crazy people. In this he displayed the arrogance made possible by a majority of 80 and dying opposition. Either way for Johnson, he pokes fun at voters with his choice of subordinates.

We have to recognize that even if the Chancellor moves to Downing Street sooner or later, he will face insurmountable challenges. Roy Jenkins once said he can’t remember a prime minister taking office at the end of a long period of one-party rule who has proven capable of doing anything decent with him. . He thought of Alec Douglas-Home, Jim Callaghan and John Major; since Jenkins’ death, Gordon Brown’s experience has reinforced his point. Even if Sunak proves to be a virtuoso lion tamer, horse whisperer and snake charmer, he will lead a party whose electorate is inevitably tired. Many of the problems, especially energy, stem from failures of the government of David Cameron or before and are not likely to be resolved quickly.

If we find it difficult to deal with the United States under the Biden administration, consider the likelihood that the 2024 election will propel Donald Trump or someone like him into the White House, who “don’t make allies”. A new prime minister could, however, initiate a reset of relations with our European neighbors, which is impossible under Johnson. He could rebuild the electorate’s faith in the rhetoric of officials, make promises he has at least one modest aspiration to fulfill. He can be trusted with money, both his own and that of others. He seems to possess moral authority, a quality that should still matter to those who aspire to rule.

Looking back, we can see the last decade as a time when, for most of us, it was very comfortable to be British; we seemed capable of having it all and made complacent choices accordingly. We have entered a new era, in which tension exists and a collision is threatened between our loneliness, worsening economic realities and the admirable aspirations of a new generation to be greener, kinder and work less hard.

Someone is going to have to tell young people that this virtue has to be paid for and that, for example, workers who stay at home more should expect to be paid less. They will not like this message and applaud a Prime Minister who delivers it. But that’s one of the many reasons we need a responsible national leader, sooner rather than later.

Johnson has a window to leave Downing Street at will and start doing what he does best again: telling an adoring audience what they want to hear. The old Mexican in the movie could barely assure her that her job was done. But as much has been accomplished as he is likely to be under his watch.

Max Hastings is a former editor of the London Evening Standard and the The telegraph of the day, where Boris Johnson was correspondent

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