"Please," you say, backing into a wall as the shadow of a shaggy-haired politician looms over you. "Please," you say, "not Boris. What about –" your mind casts about for an alternative "– what about Jeremy Hunt? He’s not so bad, really?" Sweat forms on your brow. "Didn’t he run a business? Or Rory Stewart? Seems like a laugh, smoked heroin once."
The shadow grows bigger, morphs into something recognisable – you see the outline of an unbuttoned shirt, a tie askew, is that a bicycle helmet under his arm? – no, no, not Boris, not like this. He’s coming for you: our future leader, the inhabitant of Number 10 Downing Street, the 14th Prime Minister to serve under Queen Elizabeth II, and the 20th old Etonian to hold the office: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.
In a crowded and vainglorious field, Johnson is the clear frontrunner for Conservative leader and, therefore, our next PM. But there’s a problem. He must be stopped. But how can he be stopped?
IF TORY MPS DON'T INITIALLY BACK BORIS
The main thing to say about Tories is that there is nothing – not throwing pennies at homeless people, trashing curry houses or marrying people who look like their sisters – that gives them more of a hard-on than a leadership election. Conservatives view the bit in between leadership elections (i.e. actually governing or being the party in opposition) as basic filler, similar to the bits in the Lord of the Rings films that involve hobbits or talking trees. Leadership elections, though: now we’re talking. This is the *rubs legs* good stuff.
On Monday, the Conservative Party blows the starting whistle on their leadership contest. Hopefuls have until 5 PM to throw their hat into the ring, and will need the support of at least eight other MPs to do so. Anyone who doesn’t gain the necessary support must drop out this evening. Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, and Dominic Raab have already confirmed their backers. Unfortunately, so has Johnson.
Boris's survival odds: As likely as someone making a toast to Thatcher at a Young Conservatives fundraiser (i.e. a dead cert).
IF THE OTHER LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES WERE ACTUALLY GOOD
The most obvious way to stop Johnson, of course, would be for the other leadership candidates to make more compelling pitches to Tory MPs. Unfortunately, it’s been a catastrophic weekend for his opponents.
Gove’s campaign is in crisis after he admitted to using cocaine 20 years ago while simultaneously advocating for harsher drug penalties. Hunt’s comments on abortion in support of lowering the time limit for terminations to 12 weeks have pulled focus away from his campaign. Meanwhile, a clip of Esther McVey getting savagely owned by former GMTV colleague Lorraine Kelly – sorry, the artist known as Lorraine Kelly – has been doing the rounds.
For the most part Johnson has been sitting the madcap theatrics out. Like an ambush predator, this silence is calculated. After all, when was the last time he shut up about anything?
Boris's survival odds: About as likely as a Tory MP fiddling with their expenses (i.e. very likely).
IF TORY MPS DON'T ACTUALLY VOTE FOR BORIS
After all the candidates are declared, all 314 Conservative MPs begin to whittle down the contenders in four rounds of votes that will take place till the 20th of June. In the first ballot on Thursday, anybody without the support of at least 17 MPs must drop out. In the second ballot, leadership hopefuls will need the votes of at least 33 MPs to proceed. The person with the fewest votes in every round will be kicked out until we are finally left with two leadership contenders.
It's possible that Tories could organise to block Boris at this point. Many moderates within the party aren't exactly thrilled by the prospect of Boris as PM – not least after he was widely perceived to bungle his brief as Foreign Secretary, a position that had been given to him by Theresa May to see if he was up to one of the great offices of state. (He wasn't.)
They're also concerned that Johnson, if made Prime Minister, would be unable to make good on his promise of delivering a new Brexit deal – meaning that we either crash out with no-deal or are forced to hold a general election. (As the recent Peterborough by-election suggests, the Tories would likely be destroyed in a public vote.) It's possible that a dedicated anti-Boris campaign would prevent him making it onto the ballot sheet of Tory members and thus block him from Number 10. However, this would require a level of organisational nous that, judging by their handling of Brexit over the last two years, the Tories simply don't have in them.
Boris's survival odds: As likely as a prospective Tory parliamentary candidate getting outed for doing blackface at a freshers' ball (i.e. fairly likely).
IF TORY PARTY MEMBERS DON'T VOTE FOR BORIS
Finally, the two remaining contenders will face the vote of 124,000 or so Conservative party members after being questioned by them in a series of hustings. It looks increasingly likely that the two left standing will be Johnson – a hardline Brexiteer beloved by the party faithful – and Hunt, hated by many of them for his moderate stance on Brexit. (Hunt’s odds have shortened since Amber Rudd, a key figure amongst many moderate Tories, came out in support of him over the weekend.
What does this mean? Well, if Johnson can get through the next few weeks without something egregious and damaging emerging about his past – which, let’s face it, could happen – he’ll almost certainly be our next prime minister. All Johnson needs to do is get through to the vote of Tory members, and then his ascendancy is almost assured. Why? Because they absolutely love him. (Polling for the Times in May showed Johnson is the first choice for 39 percent of members, with second favourite Raab trailing him on 13 percent.)
They love him because Johnson has spent the best part of two decades cultivating an image of himself that’s designed to appeal to grassroots Tories. He has always displayed a gift for manipulating his image to appeal to a certain type of Tory voter – the bumbling charade, like his support for Brexit, is entirely cynically motivated. Johnson's recent announcement that he'd cut taxes for those earning over £50,000 will hardly hurt.
What can be done about it? Almost nothing. And if you don't believe me, ask the bookmakers: Johnson is odds-on favourite to win. Sometime during the week beginning the 22nd of July, the results of the Tory leadership election will be announced. Until then, why not start practising the words “Prime Minister Boris Johnson”, to see how they sound on the tongue?
Boris's survival odds: As likely as a certain Tory leadership contender doing gak in the 90s (i.e. pretty much inevitable).