The Tories seem duller after sacking a star

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The Independent Online

Alas poor Boris. The Tory front bench hardly sparkles with star quality, and what does the party leader, Michael Howard, choose to do about it? He dismisses the one Tory minister-in-waiting who had created a buzz around political life, making at least his little portion of it attractive, youthful and entertaining.

Alas poor Boris. The Tory front bench hardly sparkles with star quality, and what does the party leader, Michael Howard, choose to do about it? He dismisses the one Tory minister-in-waiting who had created a buzz around political life, making at least his little portion of it attractive, youthful and entertaining.

Of course, Boris Johnson was controversial. That tends to be one of the side-effects of being, as the common euphemism has it, colourful. Arguably, he was also trying to do too much: opposition spokesman on the Arts, party vice-chairman, MP for Henley, magazine editor, newspaper columnist, novelist, occasional television presenter and pundit, married man, father of four young children...

It can be argued that some of his professional activities threatened a conflict of interest. Is being a member of the Tory front bench consonant with editing a magazine that delights in ruffling feathers? The Liverpool episode suggested not. Mr Johnson had to take the rap for a Spectator editorial denigrating Liverpudlians for "wallowing in grief" over the murder of Ken Bigley, at the very time when the Tory leader was trying to demonstrate the party's inclusive, national, credentials.

Mr Howard's response, however, was not to suggest to Mr Johnson that a time might come when he had to choose between his editing and his political ambitions. He dispatched him instead to Liverpool for a day of apology and penance that irritated Liverpudlians further (in so far as they noticed it at all) and brought Mr Johnson yet more publicity.

Now, not one month later, Mr Johnson has been summarily sacked over media reports about his private life. Officially, he was dismissed not because of what he did, but because - shades of Bill Clinton and every other errant politician since time began - he lied about it. As ever, this is a spurious distinction. Whatever the complications of Mr Johnson's private life, they are his business. "Don't ask, don't tell" would have been an infinitely wiser course for Mr Howard to have taken.

As it is, he has lost the only real star he had on his front-bench team and someone with a rare ability to bring politics alive. We have little doubt, though, that Boris will be back.

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