Boris Johnson will do more damage writing his weekly column than he ever did as foreign secretary

Rather like Donald Trump, Johnson will take a pop at the establishment when it suits – yet even more so than Trump is in America, Johnson is the ultimate symbol of the enduring power of Britain’s traditional elites

Boris Johnson: Donald Trump is 'out of his mind'

Boris Johnson is a lucky chap.

Within a week of snivelling his way out of the Foreign Office, having changed his mind about his support for the PM’s Brexit plan, he picked up where he left off as a journalist, re-signing to The Telegraph as a regular columnist.

It is, as if any further evidence were needed, proof of his privileged position within the British “establishment”. From Eton, via Oxford, he travelled the road of right-leaning journalism until it took him to the editorship of The Spectator, before hitching himself to the Conservative Party and a parliamentary seat in 2001.

Throughout his initial period as an MP and during his mayoralty, Boris continued to combine politics with journalism. It speaks perhaps to his love of bygone times when men like Winston Churchill would pop into parliament on a Tuesday then knock out some thoughts for the press on a Wednesday.

Only since becoming foreign secretary in the post-referendum government have Johnson’s journalistic ambitions taken something of a back seat, although even then he has, at key moments, intervened through the media. His op-ed for The Telegraph in September last year, in which he set out “my vision for a bold, thriving Britain emboldened by Brexit”, was an astonishing challenge to the prime minister’s authority.

Having now opted out of the cabinet’s collective responsibility for delivering EU withdrawal, Johnson need no longer worry about holding back (if ever he did). Interestingly, his column for The Telegraph on Monday doesn’t take personal aim at Theresa May but it nevertheless reiterates a “vision” for Britain’s future that probably does not tally with the PM’s. There will be more to come, perhaps starting with a resignation statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Inevitably, some have expressed outrage at Johnson’s immediate relocation from his ministerial post to his role as a columnist. That is partly because of the money involved – he was previously paid £250,000 a year by The Telegraph for his weekly column and there’s no reason to assume he’s taken a pay cut to make his comeback (he once described that figure as “chicken-feed”, remember).

The anger also speaks to the discomfort many feel at the apparent ease with which Johnson navigates the various agencies of power in this country. Rather like Donald Trump, Johnson will take a pop at the establishment when it suits – yet even more so than Trump is in America, Johnson is the ultimate symbol of the enduring power of Britain’s traditional elites.

There is also, however, suspicion at the intrinsic notion of a working politician writing regularly for a media outlet, as if somehow an MP is cheating if they’re allowed to set out their views publicly on a regular basis. That criticism seems odd: if we want politicians to have a direct relationship with voters, surely reading their views on key subjects is a good thing, isn’t it?

All news media give politicians a platform from time to time – see for instance Justine Greening in Monday’s Times. The Independent regularly features one-off articles by MPs of all parties, and currently plays host to a regular column by Chuka Umunna. It’s not very long ago that we featured op-eds by Nigel Farage on a weekly basis. Readers are of course under no obligation to agree – or disagree – with the views espoused by politicians in their columns.

The mere fact that Boris Johnson has a fixed slot in The Telegraph to pronounce on whatever takes his fancy is not, therefore, something to be denounced inherently. He is a good writer who isn’t a member of the government; if a newspaper wants to give him a platform, so be it (the fee may be open to criticism but that is a different matter).

Nevertheless, the key concern that might reasonably be expressed about Johnson taking up his journalistic cudgels once again is that he may find himself better placed to destabilise the government from the outside than he was from within. For those who believe the country would be better off without Theresa May as prime minister, then perhaps that is all to the good.

But be careful what you wish for. Johnson’s popularity among voters has taken a considerable hit since the autumn of last year; he will be seeking to reverse that decline as debate among Conservative backbenchers about a leadership challenge to Theresa May heats up. And if the PM falls, and an election follows, who knows what could happen – a glance at the latest polls shows Labour pulling ahead.

Johnson, having stepped back from the frontline – for now – can be a disrupter to his heart’s content, lobbing an op-ed grenade at the PM every week for as long as it (whatever “it” is) might take. And while he may have left the frontbenchers for now, who’d bet against Johnson once again swapping journalistic dispatches for the dispatch box in the future?

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