PETER FROST is not sorry to see the downfall of the Tory MP for Henley.
I’VE usually not much time for Tory MPs of any persuasions but I have always had a tiny bit of sympathy and gratitude for Michael Heseltine ever since his part in kick-starting the eventual downfall of Maggie Thatcher over 25 years ago.
In 1990 Heseltine challenged Thatcher, who had been the hated Tory prime minister since 1979. He had long been a thorn in her side.
He didn’t beat Thatcher but once Heseltine had started the attack she was persuaded to withdraw from the second round of voting.
Now a quarter of a century on, the elderly Tory grandee has proved he hasn’t lost his touch. He launched a stinging attack on what was briefly the bookies’ favourite for both the next leader of the Tory Party and also prime minister — the man who took over his Henley seat, Boris Johnson.
Johnson, declared Heseltine, had to answer for the consequences of the campaign to take Britain out of the EU.
“He has ripped the Tory Party apart. He has created the greatest constitutional crisis in peacetime in my life. He has knocked billions off the value of the savings of the British people.”
Johnson, Heseltine went on, was like “a general who marches his army to the sound of the guns and the moment he sees the battleground he abandons it … The pain of it will be felt by all of us and, if it doesn’t get resolved shortly, by a generation to come yet.”
Of course Heseltine wasn’t the only one to see through Johson and his huge political ambition and tiny political ability.
Other critics included the actor Ewan McGregor, who said Johnson was “spineless” and had left it to someone else to “clear up his mess.”
Many of Johnson’s detractors believe he only joined the Brexit campaign purely for opportunistic reasons, predicting it would lose but needing to position himself to take over from Cameron when the time came.
Dodgy Dave’s No 10 team certainly thought so. They always believed Boris was a calculated Remainer who felt he could get a better deal with Europe than the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister’s team commented after the Brexit vote: “There is a special place in hell reserved for Boris.”
Johnson has always been a devious survivor. At Oxford he managed to avoid disgrace despite some typical brat pack Bullingdon Club behaviour involving drunken nights and pigs’ heads with his ex-Eton pals, including Cameron and George Osborne.
After Oxford he became a journalist on the Times but was fired, only to move to the Daily Telegraph in his twenties where he got his own column.
Next he became editor of The Spectator. He promised owner Conrad Black that if he took on the role he would not stand for Parliament, but he lied. He took Heseltine’s old seat at Henley in 2001.
The Tories were hammered at the election and Johnson was given front-bench responsibilities for education and the arts before being sacked by Michael Howard, allegedly for lying about an affair.
Next came his abject apology to the people of Liverpool for an insulting leading article about the city in The Spectator.
That didn’t stop him becoming mayor of London, defeating a popular incumbent in Ken Livingstone. In many ways this new position made him bigger than his party.
He said he would not stand for Parliament until he had finished his term as mayor but that too turned out to be a convenient lie.
He knew he needed to be back in Parliament in case the Tories lost the general election so he could have a crack at the leadership.
It wasn’t until 2014 that Johnson gave up his US citizenship to prove his loyalty to Britain.
In 2009 the married Johnson fathered a daughter with Helen MacIntyre. Her existence was the subject of legal action in 2013 with the Court of Appeal quashing an injunction seeking to ban reporting of her existence; the judge ruled that the public had a right to know about Johnson’s “reckless” behaviour.
Then, as the referendum got closer, he had to make up his mind which side he was on. As always with Johnson, it wasn’t anything to do with principle — simply which side would be best for his career.
No wonder he declared his position so late in run-up to the campaign and no wonder in the end he got his political planning so wrong.
First published in the Morning Star 11 July 2016.