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Could Boris Johnson make a comeback to Downing Street?

How quickly can 356 MPS forget Party-gate, Pincher-gate and the rest?

LAST UPDATE | 21 Oct 2022

LESS THAN FOUR months since his resignation led to the Tory leadership contest that lasted as long as the Tory leader it elected, Boris Johnson may make a return.

Liz Truss’s predecessor is understood to be making his way back to the UK from a holiday in the Dominican Republic, his third holiday since his 7 July step-down was forced by waves of Tory resignations.

James Duddridge, a Boris-supporting MP has told the PA news agency: “I’ve been in contact with the boss via WhatsApp.

“He’s going to fly back. He said, ‘I’m flying back, Dudders, we are going to do this. I’m up for it’.”

The first thing standing in his way to getting back to 10 Downing Street will be accumulating at least 100 nominations from his party’s 356 MPs by 2pm on Monday.

This is far more limiting than summer’s leadership election in which the threshold for nominations was only 20, leading to a five-candidate race.

Two of Truss’s runner-ups from the summer will be battling it out with Johnson.

Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council Penny Mordaunt, is the first candidate so far to officially announce that she’s running to replace Truss.

The other candidate is Rishi Sunak who resigned from the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer in a move that helped hasten Johnson’s downfall in July.

Currently Sunak leads the way with 74 MPs publicly pledging to support him, followed by Johnson with 42 and Mordaunt with 18, according to Sky News.

It has been speculated that neither Sunak or Johnson will publicly announce that they are running for the position until they are sure that they have enough nominations to secure a space on the ballot.

If three candidates secure enough nominations, MPs will vote to eliminate one.

They will then vote again as an indication of which of the final two have the most support in the Commons before the final online ballot among 180,000 Tory party members.

With momentum building around Johnson, it’s likely that he will beat Mordaunt, as bookies are predicting and MPs could hop on the bandwagon if they think he’s likely to beat Sunak, or at least come close to it.

Labour and even some Conservatives have been arguing that the party doesn’t have the democratic mandate to allow a second Prime Minister for a country of over 60 million to be elected by a small group of Tory party members.

They didn’t exactly nail it last time.

However Johnson does technically have that mandate, as he led the party through a general election in 2019, the last time the entire electorate had a say on who runs the country.

He has those two advantages, but also the spectre looming over him of having resigned.

Over 50 MPs quit the government as pressure mounted in July for Boris to resign, while many others were openly critical of him. 

These same MPs will likely avoid welcoming him back and embarrassing themselves, especially when his likely rival would be Sunak, who came close to beating Truss in the summer.

Johnson would certainly be the more divisive candidate in a time when the current government is taking the blame for economic turmoil caused by Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-budget.

Currently Labour (56%) have a 37-point lead over Conservatives in opinion polls and because Boris is less popular with the general public than he is inside the party, many MPs may worry that this could drop further if he took control.

In short, if they succeeded in getting Johnson back into Downing Street, they may worry that the party will be even more unpopular under his second go at leadership, causing them to lose their seats in the next election – scheduled for 2025.

If Johnson makes it into the final ballot, which he likely will, his past scandals as well as current Tory popularity may make him too risky of an option for the next Prime Minister.

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