“That’s it folks,” said Boris Johnson, flanked by dozens of his MPs and staff, as he and his wife Carrie left Downing Street for the final time.
Jovial and never emotional – not his style – it was (mostly) a more good-humored affair than his resignation speech in July, which was raw with bitterness at the way he was forced out its functions.
Today, in his last hour, the outgoing Prime Minister was bullish and full of its characteristic bombastcomparing itself at one point to a booster rocket landing in the middle of the Pacific.
Two months ago, when 60 government resignations forced him out of office, he stood at the Downing Street lectern and called out his party’s decision “eccentric”.
It was clear he had tried to talk them out of it, and far from offering remorse for partygate or the handling of the Chris Pincher debacle, said “they’re the breaks” and reflected that many people would be disappointed.
He has now had several weeks to come to terms with his predicament – with the fact that the job he has coveted since childhood, when he talked about becoming “King of the world”, escaped his grasp. He is one of the shortest post-war prime ministers.
Unable to resist a final dig at his fellow Tories, he remarked: “The baton will be put back in what unexpectedly turned out to be a relay race. They changed the rules halfway through, but little matter now.”
It was then to his accomplishments – the deployment of the vaccine; military aid to Ukraine which he believed would change the tide of the war. And some of the unfulfilled promises – from the much-criticized 40 “new hospitals” he promised by the end of the decade, the 50,000 new nurses he promised by the end of parliament and the ” welfare reform” that the sector say is in dire straits.
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Elected to finally deliver the Brexit he campaigned for in 2016, he had little to say about its benefits. Nor, as always, did he publicly offer regret or self-reflection.
He will be remembered for his force of personality and the stunning way he realigned the Conservative electoral coalition to win former Labor seats and secure an 80-seat majority. Then just over three years later, he squandered it or had it removed from his reach, depending on whether you were talking to his detractors or his die-hard supporters.
He leaves his successor with a daunting reception tray and said he expected Liz Truss to help people with energy bills and swore he would give her his full support.
But will Boris Johnson go quietly? He will take time with his family – for now. Like the Roman statesman Cincinnatus, he said, “I will return to my plow.
There is a historical debate, as Johnson surely knows, about whether Cincinnatus2,500 years ago, really stayed on his farm after coming to power or in fact returned triumphantly when the Roman republic was in trouble.
Our outgoing Prime Minister, who remains an MP, is keeping his options open. He will also try to ensure that, like Cincinnatus, the story dwells on the accomplishments rather than the many crises of his turbulent time in power.
Unlike Theresa May or Gordon Brown, he did not dwell on the honor of the office, although he did thank and pay tribute to his staff and colleagues. It was no surprise to hear him instead insist that he had won the biggest Tory majority since 1987. It sounded like a message of defiance to his party that they would find him an act difficult to follow.
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