My host twinkled sardonically. ‘We’re bound to be discussing Boris. So what’s the right wine?’ I suggested a bunker-busting Australian Shiraz, preceded by an alluring, minxy champagne: cuvée Madame Claude. ‘No, we need something intellectual, to bring perspective.’ ‘That sounds like Graves, perhaps a Pessac-Leognan.’ ‘Got it in one. Came across a couple of bottles the other day. La Mission Haut-Brion ’64 — the year Boris was born.’
In personality, the bottles were everything that a mature claret ought to be, with no resemblance to Boris. Perhaps a little less fruit than there would have been five years ago, but these were well-tempered wines, with subtlety, structure and a length that will last until 31 October. Will Boris?
At present, his animal energy is sweeping all before it. He seems to have found a moulin mystique producing endless supplies of cake, while emancipating himself from gravity, in all senses of the word. But what happens when the irresistible force crashes into immovable objects in Brussels? We should not rule out an outcome which I would have dismissed until recently. Boris might pull it off.
If so, and there was no economic crisis, Boris would focus voters’ minds on aspiration. ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ could be his theme tune (it didn’t do Roosevelt any harm). With Labour still mired in Corbynism, Boris wins an election. Labour splits. The future is bright: the future is right. But what if Brexit goes pear-shaped and there is a global economic crisis? That would neither be Boris’s fault nor Brexit’s. Yet both would cop the blame. Electoral carnage would follow.
Boris is a much better human being than Bill Clinton or Donald Trump. They might do in America. Will Boris do in Britain? As middle age comes on apace, I am growing into a comfortable prejudice. This country ought to be run by wise men (including the occasional woman), well-cellared in Tory establishment instincts and values. That is not Boris. But wait: nor was it Churchill or Thatcher. I am not suggesting that he should be compared with those historical figures — except in one respect. They were insurrectionists against establishment caution. So is he. Only Churchill could have mobilised national morale in 1940. Only Thatcher could have revived the country after 1979. It may be that only Boris could get us out of the EU.
Anyone, like my host, who prefers stability in government and believes that the ruling order ought to have the harmony of a fine claret must be dismayed by recent developments. Nigel Farage is the most important British politician so far this century. Boris may be about to join him. For better or worse, we are condemned to live in a brawling and disrespectful democracy.
There are consolations. Last week, there was a delicious scene in the Commons. The Labour front bench had to endure its worst waking nightmare. In quick succession, they were rapiered by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Pinstriped Pimpernel, and bludgeoned by Don Giovanni Johnson. Made mock of by two old Etonians: this should not happen to the horny-handed alumni of Camden Council’s multi-gender lavatory department (I am using ‘horny’ purely as part of Labour mythology). By the end, the Corbynites were looking as miserable as Masetto after his cudgelling, without even the comforts of Zerlina. She would have been looked after elsewhere. There will be more to come from Sir Percy Blakeney and Don BoJo.
After claret, we too had more to come: a ’77 Taylor’s, still barely beyond late adolescence. It will easily outlast Boris and much else besides. As for our PM’s staying power, we still do not know whether he is BoJo-laise nouveau (what an appalling pun) or a vintage of consequence. It will be a gripping voyage of discovery.