- “If the day ever comes that Boris Johnson becomes tenant of Downing Street, I shall be among those packing my bags for a new life in Buenos Aires or suchlike, because it means that Britain has abandoned its last pretensions to be a serious country” - Max Hastings, Daily Telegraph editor, October 10, 2012.
I’ve just checked and there are a dozen flights a day to Buenos Aires from London, some quite cheap, so no problem if Max wants to do a runner. He may not be alone: there may be enough people leaving to club together to charter a plane and save cash.
In that same 2012 article in the Daily Mail, Max declared: “I would not take Boris's word about whether it is Monday or Tuesday.”
It is in fact Tuesday, but Max has a point: Johnson’s opening words to the Party faithful on being declared leader were: “Good morning, everyone”. But, as a radio presenter covering the event live immediately pointed out, it was already afternoon – another mis-step, he joked, from a man who has managed the transition, it appears, from seemingly lovable and cuddly to toxic and divisive.
Max Hastings sent Boris Johnson to Brussels as a hack in 1989, encouraging the young man’s florid and often flawed coverage which has been in the spotlight ever since the blond bombshell puts his considerable weight behind the Brexit campaign.
Max even sent his EEC correspondent a herogram urging him to be “more pompous”, which pleased Boris no end. And when his time in Brussels ended, Max promoted him in London for doing a great job.
But times change, and how! Who knew then that one day, in the very distant future, Boris, with the benefit of a borrowed comb and a decent gent’s outfitter, would seize the crown?
Well, at the risk of blowing the only trumpet I’ve got, I kind of did, not in the Brussels days, but as soon as the Johnson, buoyed by further journalistic success in London and television celebrity through chat shows and “Have I Got News For You”, began dabbling in politics.
The fact that he twice survived breaking promises to his bosses, including the formidable Conrad Black, not to stand as an MP while employed full-time in journalism, simply reinforced the notion that this fellow, for whatever reason, could do no wrong and was a vote-winner: even those he irritated and annoyed recognised his giant personality and the charm.
And when university students started postponing going to the pub on a Friday night until after they’d seen that blond bloke on the news quiz programme (I have scientific evidence), it seemed clear where this was all heading, however long it took.
I said to all and sundry: "Mark my words, one day that chap will be prime minister." I was dismissed as a loony back in 2002.
It’s not that I want it to happen, I said, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that Boris has…….something indefinable: people will back him the minute they see him, they already cheer his every utterance, they delight in his gaffes, his clownish, impish side; he’s like no one else you know.
“Yes but”, everyone said, and I had to agree that they were right. Normally. But Boris isn’t normal. In a good way. And, yes, sometimes in a bad way.
And yes, anything could intervene - and often has – to upset this rollicking, runaway applecart. Yet just when my prediction seemed to have reached a sticky end, something, some serendipitous force, often beyond Boris’s control, would right the applecart, and our hero would be back on his unspoken track to the top. And he has remained amazingly, defiantly, untouchable.
My wife threatened to divorce me – not in protest against Boris, so much; more because she said that, if he ever did become prime minister, which he wouldn’t, obviously, I would wake up every morning thereafter and start the day by saying: "I told you so”.
When Boris was felled by Michael Gove three years ago during his first leadership, my wife sent me a text: “I don’t have to divorce you after all.” It looked like game over for Johnson and for my prophesy.
Then, in a bizarre, gob-smacking, left-of-field decision which only underpins the rationale behind my prediction in the first place, Theresa May, having become PM, picked Boris off the floor and elevated him to the role of Foreign Secretary.
You see, I said, you see! This is what I’ve been talking about all this time! The Johnson force-field has intervened once again - he SHALL go to the ball! Even if it takes a little longer.
Which it has.
So, as Max Hastings packs his bags and heads for the airport, I apologise to those who know me for banging on for so long about what has just happened.
I take no joy in being right, if only because, stupidly, I didn’t think to nip to the bookies in 2002 and bet a newly-minted 100-euro note on what has just happened: I don’t want to know what the odds would have been, or how rich I would have become.
I am now trying to stave off divorce, but I do insist on being allowed to say “I told you so” once a day for at least the next month.
And then I’ll shut up.
And maybe it’ll all work out just fine…….but I wouldn’t bet on it.