At the start of a week, as the Conservatives face the prospect of two by-election defeats – possible foretastes of the upcoming general election wipeout – voices on the right of the party are calling for Boris Johnson's return under one form or another is becoming stronger and stronger.
On Sunday, they came not only under renewed pressure from the conservative-leaning press, but also from former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, who said Rishi Sunak “should swallow some pride” and bring his rival back into the fold. lap.
For those who remember Johnson's disgrace after an investigation found he had misled Parliament – and the bitter 1,000-word statement accompanying his resignation as an MP last year in which he attacked the Sunak government – such a course of action is unthinkable.
Yet the prospect of a comeback has persisted since Johnson himself sowed the seed during his departure speech from Downing Street in 2022, when he compared himself to Cincinnatus, the Roman political leader and farmer who “is returned to his plow” but arranged a return to Rome to lead. as a dictator.
The former prime minister also continues to benefit from a die-hard public who long for the man who delivered the party's best performance in a general election since Margaret Thatcher's 1987 victory.
David Campbell Bannerman, chairman of the Conservative Democratic Organization founded by the ex-prime minister's allies to rally grassroots support, told the Guardian that Johnson's return would send a strong signal to pro-Brexit Tories who are would turn towards the reformist party of Richard Tice.
“But why should he help Sunak when Sunak would have threatened to bring him down again if he had become leader last time – and Boris would have won the leadership. Sunak should get on his knees and beg Boris to help save him,” Campbell Bannerman said.
For the Mail on Sunday, which published an editorial calling for the political return of the man who is now employed by its sister newspaper, he is the “star striker» sitting on the bench.
Days after Andrew Griffith, the science minister, said Johnson was a “big voice” who would be welcome in the Conservative election campaign, the Mail and Sunday Telegraph reported it would take a personal phone call of Sunak to guarantee his return.
But what difference would Johnson make beyond the popular Tory desire for the “Boris brand”?
One thing he would be unable to change is the harsh economic reality, which the Treasury admits will be underlined this week when data shows a further rise in inflation, a further blow to a key Sunak pledge.
Nonetheless, Johnson loyalists insist he is a proven vote winner and has the ability to somehow attract voters in the so-called red wall seats taken from Labor in 2019. Johnson was an “electoral force” that should be used as a weapon, suggested Kwarteng, who urged Sunak. turn to the man with whom he had a serious falling out.
“And if that means swallowing a bit of pride and removing a bit of ego by contacting someone who is an approved campaigner, then yes, then he should do it,” Kwarteng told GB News.
Of course, such a scenario assumes that the ruthless ambition always associated with Johnson had somehow dissipated and that he would be content with anything other than wearing the emperor's crown.
It is a stretch, but still not an insurmountable obstacle, to imagine a Tory MP falling on his own sword to pave the way for Johnson's return to Parliament.
Even then, and if he pulled off a real coup in a Roman palace, a poll last month by Ipsos UK gave him a favorable rating among 2019 Conservative voters of 43%, while at 34 % his unfavorable rating was higher than Sunak's.
For now, at least, Tory MPs' enthusiasm for another Johnson election appears limited to a handful of outlier, retired parliamentarians.
No 10 sources say “Boris and all the others” will be welcome as part of “the whole Tory family” who will come together to take on Labor.
Expect Sunak to repeat variations on this theme through gritted teeth.