Westminster revelled in Johnson's downfall
The Red Lion pub, Westminister, 7th July 2022, 7pm
“The dominoes started falling on Tuesday evening…” An LBC voice trails out of a taxi window. Now it is Wednesday night, and we are in Westminster. Outside the Red Lion pub, a few hundred metres away from Big Ben, and even less distance from No.10. A Boris impersonator, who is uncanny really, fleshy and boyish and puce, strolls by towards the cameras trained on Downing Street.
His appearance rouses a cheer from the crowd. Yes, the crowd: every apparatchik, every below decks fiddler, every tangentially Tory policy hack is here, outside this pub, tonight. We order pints by the four, because of the queue.
The last days of Rome are mentioned, but Boris always preferred Greece. This is Thermopylae, except the Persians are going to flood into the bunker, and skewer everybody inside. It’s over. It is like one of those funerals where they tell you to wear colours and have fun at the wake.
I am with a collection of spads, bag carriers, and lawyers. Their phones are narcotics. Michael Fabricant rules himself out of the running. “It’s as if Taylor Swift ruled herself out of the running of being my wife,” says one man.
Half of them had unplugged their office phones by 11am. They knew yesterday that today would be the day. All there was to do was listen to the grass of history growing.
Whenever an MP passes through the crowd undulates, slowly, in the way underwater vegetation moves. It is Lee Anderson. Until seven hours ago he was as loyal a Johnsonist as they came. Now: no jacket. Beyond business. Macbeth eyes. “We will be fine,” he says, furiously. He looks at the pavement, and walks.
Everybody is waiting. The bar is clogged with patient Tories. Their ties have been abolished. A dozen blue suits in thin Terracotta Army lines. They shouldn’t be as happy as they seem. This is their mess as much as his — they turned the gears that brought us to this moment.
Everywhere around us plastic shot glasses are raised into the air. There is the same feeling you might have had before you chase the night down to the last light. I am shown a meme several times by more than one person: every cabinet position, filled by Nadine Dorries.
“Brandon Lewis has gone.” This is shouted.
“No he has not.” This is shouted louder. All night there are claims and counter-claims.
We are told that Boris phoned the editor of a major national newspaper this morning, when everything was already obvious. The Prime Minister yakked about his mandate, about 14 million votes — for him, not the Conservatives. He was threatening and abrasive. Boris said he wasn’t going anywhere. He would take it all the way to the top; first the Queen, then God. Satan was not invoked, though it would have made sense.
The editor apparently said that he thought Boris sounded insane. People joke about sending the SAS across the road, daggers in their teeth, abseils in their hands, to rescue him from himself. When Rasputin died he had to be stabbed as many times as there were living Russians. Boris needs as many knives in the back as he has MPs.
This night in Westminster was the final leg of a long goodbye. By the morning it was finished. After the resignation, all the spads and hacks will wash the blood off their mouths and rub their eyes. The carnival of Boris’s last night will become another blurry memory. Then the horrible clarity: nobody was really governing for the last three years anyway. Nothing has changed.