‘Bring back Big Dog’: could Boris Johnson really stage a comeback after Liz Truss’ resignation?

The former PM is reportedly considering a bid for the Conservative party leadership which would see him back in office less than two months after leaving

A week is a long time in politics, as the old adage goes. That may be true, but equally, 44 days is very much not a long time to be prime minister. Truss will technically remain in Downing Street for another week or so - which will likely feel like a very long time for her, at least - while the Tory members who put her there in the first place get another go at picking the PM. But she will leave as the shortest-serving prime minister in history.

So, who will replace her? The runners and riders are beginning to emerge, with Suella Braverman, the shortest-serving Home Secretary in history, likely to be among the contenders. Allies of Jeremy Hunt have ruled him out of the contest this time around, having stepped into the breach following Kwasi Kwarteng’s departure last week, as the second shortest-serving chancellor in history. Penny Mordaunt is the first out of the blocks to formally announce her intention to run this afternoon, reprising the simple-yet-effective #PM4PM slogan.

The return of Big Dog?

But there is one name on everyone’s lips in Westminster following Truss’ announcement: Boris Johnson.

The Times has reported that Johnson will put himself forward, and some Conservative MPs have already voiced support for the man who, in his departing words outside Downing Street, cast himself as Cincinnatus, the Roman statesman who left office only to return later - albeit as a dictator. In a display of his everyman grasp of both high and low culture, he concluded his resignation statement in the Commons with the Terminator’s famous line, “I’ll be back”.

Could Big Dog stage a comeback as PM? It has been done before. Most famously by Johnson’s idol, Winston Churchill. While Churchill had to wait six years to move back into Downing Street after losing the 1945 election, Johnson has been gone for a little over six weeks - surely not even enough time for his successor to have replaced his infamously opulent wallpaper.

The first step of Johnson’s route back to power would likely involve winning the support of at least 100 of his fellow Conservative MPs. This wouldn’t be a certainty, given the controversial manner in which he left office. But gaining the support of 100 MPs would be far from an insurmountable hurdle for Johnson, who secured the backing of 211 colleagues in a no-confidence vote a month before he announced his resignation.

Assuming he can muster the support of his parliamentary party, Johnson would surely be the favourite to win the support of the party membership. Despite his travails in office he is still widely venerated by the party’s grassroots, with a snap poll of Tory Party members earlier this week putting him as their preferred successor to Truss.

Putting aside the sheer banter-factor - seemingly the most reliable predictor in British politics in recent years - the case for Johnson might actually be fairly strong, as it may be the option which results from that most powerful of Tory instincts; self-preservation.

With the Conservatives’ claim to a democratic mandate now stretched thin, having departed drastically both in personnel and content from their election winning platform in 2019, a return of the man who was credited as the primary factor in attaining that victory may provide the only passable argument against an imminent general election. With the polls as dire as they are currently for the Tories, this prospect may be a particularly attractive one to Conservative MPs.

Whether Johnson maintains any of the appeal he once had with the electorate is a very different question though. Former No10 pollster James Johnson has been pouring ice-cold water over the ‘Johnson Mark II’ brigade on Twitter, highlighting constituency-level data from February showing how the then-PM had a net negative score in every seat in the country.

Perhaps most importantly, there is also the question of whether he would even want to come back. Reports that Johnson wanted to leave in order to embark on a highly lucrative tour of the speakers circuit and cash out on a tell-all memoir were a near-constant throughout his time in office. A return to the frontline would likely mean that he could fetch even larger sums from these pursuits some time in the future, but Johnson has never seemed like one for delaying gratification.

A return to Downing Street for the man who was forced out by not one scandal but an almost endless torrent of them would be highly controversial, to put it mildly. There’s also the not-insignificant matter of an open investigation into whether he misled the house to be considered.