In the midst of two extreme national crises – Coronavirus and Brexit – we have a Prime Minister in Britain who is quite clearly not up to the job, and is almost universally despised and ridiculed on account of this. A few days ago John Macdonnell, Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor – and what a good real Chancellor he would probably have made! – suggested that unhappy Conservative MPs, of whom there are many, join with Opposition members to find a way of removing Johnson; and maybe of installing a truly ‘national’ government in place of his. The historical precedent for this, of course, was May 1940, when the House of Commons rose up under Leo Amery against Neville Chamberlain – ‘In the name of God, go!’ – in the cross-party rebellion which installed Winston Churchill as Premier for the duration of the War. Something like that would not go amiss now.
One problem, of course, would be finding someone acceptable by both sides to replace Johnson – another Churchill, in effect. The trouble today is that most of the best Conservative choices were brutally ousted by Johnson before the General Election of December 2019, to be replaced by the weak-minded Brexit-loyal toadies he has in his cabinet today. The new leader would have to be a Tory, as he was in 1940, in order to carry the Conservative party. But whom of the present bunch would any Labour MP trust; with the obvious candidate – Ken Clark – no longer a Member?
Boris Johnson famously admires Churchill, and wants to be seen in his mould. It will be deeply ironic – but for me rather satisfying – if instead he is cast by future historians as the new Neville Chamberlain. He won’t like that. (Although, to be fair, Neville Chamberlain has been unfairly traduced.)