Chris Mason: The ghost of Boris Johnson haunts Rishi Sunakon June 10, 2023 at 12:17 am

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The ex-PM, with a life-long knack for throwing stones and grabbing attention, is doing just that.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and current PM Rishi SunakImage source, Reuters

Chaos, uncorked. Again.

In his seven months as prime minister, the most notable characteristic Rishi Sunak has brought to government is – relatively speaking at least – stability.

But 2022 – or much of it – was defined, politically, by a soap opera of Conservative squabbling.

It didn’t disappear with the arrival of Mr Sunak in Number 10, but it quietened down substantially.

Now, it is back again.

Downing Street was an observer of events on Friday – it only found out about Boris Johnson’s resignation as an MP when the rest of us did.

A former prime minister, in Boris Johnson, with a life-long knack for throwing stones and grabbing attention, doing just that.

A current prime minister, in Rishi Sunak, languishing in the opinion polls and now confronting two appointments with a disgruntled electorate, courtesy of two people meant to be on his own side.

And so, yet again, the party of government winding and wounding itself in public.

I am going to sound very 2022 now by inviting you into my notebook and my WhatsApps, so you can hear, as I have been doing, a sense of what Conservative MPs are saying.

Boris Johnson provokes adulation and irritation. Or to put it more bluntly, love and hate.

Some within the party tell me he is the best Tory prime minister they have had since Margaret Thatcher.

Others, as a man who should never have been allowed within a mile of Downing Street.

And parallels are being drawn with former US president Donald Trump.

Two huge characters, with vast charisma and even greater capacity for controversy. Shaking up their parties, never far from the headlines, always leaving people guessing about what they will do next.

“He is a medieval king, rewarding his gang,” is how one senior Conservative described Mr Johnson’s resignation honours list to me.

“He has taken unedifying to a whole new level,” said another figure who has known him closely for years.

And yet others are crestfallen, even heartbroken, at his departure – convinced that without him they would have never become MPs in the first place.

So, what happens next?

The soap opera of squabbling starts again.

As you may have guessed, Boris Johnson is not likely to vanish into obscurity.

Some in the party think he is finished. Others, far from it.

As one former cabinet minister told me: “The party still doesn’t feel Sunak is a winner, even those who dislike Boris. It isn’t over…”

And so the plates are spinning again.

Boris Johnson finds himself just where he likes to be: the centre of attention, onlookers asking what on earth will he do next?

The ghost of Boris Johnson haunts Rishi Sunak.

It is the last thing the prime minister needs.

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