LONDON: Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s potential return to Downing Street reads like a Shakespearean arc of redemption after a fall – but critics see elements of farce in it.
Johnson, 58, has long struggled to write a biography of William Shakespeare, missing several deadlines after securing a lucrative lead in 2015.
He may have focused on the manuscript during his recent self-imposed leisure, after announcing his impending departure in July and resigning in September.
For most of the time since July he has been on holiday in the UK and abroad – reportedly cutting short a trip to the Caribbean on Friday to try to reclaim the crown in the Conservative Party’s latest leadership race.
Following the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss, Johnson’s supporters have urged him to resume a term that was abruptly cut short by a cabinet uprising.
They seem driven in part by a burning desire to arrest Rishi Sunak, the former finance minister originally promoted by their Caesarean hero Johnson, but then accuse him of backstabbing, Brutus-style.
Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, such as King Lear and Macbeth, see the error of their ways too late, providing a redemptive coda to their doomed stories.
Has Johnson learned anything from his many missteps?
He still has a Sword of Damocles hanging over him, in the form of a House of Commons inquiry into whether he lied to MPs about the ‘Partygate’ affair.
Former aide Dominic Cummings, now a vocal critic of Johnson, claims his former boss quietly backed Truss against Sunak out of Machiavellian self-interest.
He expected his tenure to be disastrous and short-lived, paving the way for his comeback, claims Cummings.
“It’s extraordinary the state of British politics… this soap opera risks tipping into absolute farce,” Will Walden, Johnson’s ex-assistant, told LBC radio on Friday.
Switching to an art form, he compared the situation to the nightmarish scene depicted in Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream”.
Johnson remains a favorite of some Tory and grassroots lawmakers – who will elect their new leader next week if Tory MPs cannot settle for just one candidate.
Proponents believe he alone has the democratic mandate from the electorate necessary to govern until the next general election due by January 2025 and then win it.
“If Liz Truss is no longer prime minister, there can be no crowning of candidates who have already failed,” said ex-culture secretary Nadine Dorries, a Johnson loyalist who, in her spare time, writing romantic fiction.
Johnson was, during his brief absence, portrayed in a Sky TV drama about the Covid crisis, played in Shakespearean form by Kenneth Branagh, filled with dream sequences inspired by Greek tragedy.
His life story has been adapted for the stage, including at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe festival, when Johnson was pictured having learned none of his lines for a school performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’.
As under the scheming Richard, others warn the kingdom faces dangerous divisions if Johnson returns.
Several Tory lawmakers have said they could not stay under a second Johnson government, potentially forcing a snap general election if the party loses its ruling majority.
“The problem for them was his personality, and that hasn’t changed since he left 45 days ago,” Open University politics professor Simon Usherwood told AFP.
Johnson’s return as leader would be “a major trauma to the party, possibly fatal”, he warned.
“As we saw with Truss, a party member favorite is not the same as a general voter favorite or even a credible prime minister.”
But not everyone is convinced Johnson can overcome the high bar he needs to run in the new Tory race – a minimum of 100 Conservative lawmaker nominations.
“I don’t think MPs will want to go back and choose the same person they kicked out of Downing Street just a few months ago,” said Tim Bale, a Tory historian.
“It’s fantasy country to think that voters want him back. But some Tory MPs live in fantasy land,” he added.
“Johnson would be just the last joke the Conservative Party would try to pull the country, and the country wouldn’t laugh.”