Boris Johnson was ‘begging people for votes’ in a ‘demeaning’ way, says Iain Duncan Smith

Party grandee describes ‘almost an exclamation of relief’ among MPs as Rishi Sunak crowned leader

Andy Gregory
Wednesday 26 October 2022 09:42 BST
Johnson was 'begging people for votes' in a 'demeaning' way, says Iain Duncan Smith

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has described Boris Johnson as “begging” Conservative MPs for nominations during his “demeaning” failed bid to return to Downing Street.

Mr Johnson announced he would not formally stand in the race to replace Liz Truss on the eve of nominations closing – despite claiming to privately have the support of the 102 MPs needed to make it to the ballot after cutting short a Caribbean holiday to drum up support.

The ex-PM insisted there was “very good chance” party members would have opted to put him back in No 10 just seven weeks after he departed in a mire of scandal, but said contesting the leadership “would simply not be the right thing to do” and conceded he would be unable to unite his party.

At the time of his statement on Sunday night, he had secured just 62 public declarations to Mr Sunak’s 150, and the ex-chancellor was crowned Tory leader the following day after his last remaining rival Penny Mordaunt also bowed out of the race.

Mr Johnson had likely “planned” to allow the dust of his own leadership to settle for a longer period before attempting a political comeback – but Ms Truss’s premiership “collapsed earlier than he had expected”, Sir Iain suggested.

“He’d made no plans, he got no team,” the Tory MP, who led the party in opposition between 2001 and 2003, told LBC’s Andrew Marr on Monday evening. “He kind of expected, I think, when he arrived that there would be at least 150 people acclaiming him and this would grow to the majority.

“That didn’t happen. Suddenly he found himself struggling and begging people for votes. That was demeaning really. Then when Rishi and the others said: ‘No, the only deal we’d do with you is if you were serving us, not the other way round’, that of course didn’t suit him.”

Sir Iain said he had tried to “explain” to Mr Johnson two days prior that the “drip, drip, drip” of fallout from the parliamentary Partygate inquiry facing him in the coming weeks would have “destablised” their party, warning him: “I just don’t see how you get through that.”

But, winning plaudits from Mr Marr on his impersonation of Mr Johnson, Sir Iain imitated the former PM as having responded with characteristic boosterism and bluster, saying “no, no, no, we’ll be alright” and “we’ll sort it out, don’t you worry”.

But Sir Iain said he had pushed back, telling Mr Johnson that although inquiry was not “a sword of Damocles”, its weeks of televised witness testimonies would be a repeated reminder of the scandal and would make things “very difficult”.

“I just said, ‘until you’re past that, whatever ambitions you’ve got have to be on hold’,” he added.

Ultimately, that is what has transpired, and Mr Sunak was announced the new Tory leader by the party’s backbench 1922 Committee on Monday just five minutes after Ms Mordaunt’s withdrawal.

Asked whether the Tory party will now unite behind Mr Sunak, their third leader in as many months, Sir Iain – who also served as David Cameron’s work and pensions secretary – said he had “detected a final shift today in the ’22 Committee when [Mr Sunak] appeared in front of it”.

“There was almost an exclamation of relief that actually we didn’t have to go to the country, we didn’t have to have another row about it”, he said, predicting that, as a result, Mr Sunak “will certainly” enjoy a period of relative political harmony in which “people want him to get on with it, to succeed”.

He added: “I think everybody realises we cannot go on arguing about personalities any longer.”

Declining to say whether Mr Johnson should be given a place in Mr Sunak’s Cabinet, comparing the ex-PM to the late US presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan as he labelled him “the greatest campaigner we’ve got”.

Mr Johnson “can change the weather, good or bad”, he said, adding: “You want a man like that around at some point anyway, so I would hope that in due course Rishi will eventually reach out for him ... because we’ll need that campaigning pizzazz when we get to the next election.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in