COMETH the hour, cometh the man. Seldom has a prime minister been so disparaged and reviled by the fashionable London media and political class as Boris Johnson. They threw everything at him in their bid to bring him down and it started from the moment the summer Tory leadership contest got underway with him installed as hot favourite.
There were hyped-up reports of domestic tiffs and alleged affairs from years ago. Fragments of quotes from newspaper columns he’d written in the distant past were used to try to depict him as an extremist, or even a racist. They berated him as heartless for refusing to gaze for long enough at a picture of a child suffering in “our NHS”, ludicrously branded him as “far Right” when he refused to bend at the knee to the pro-Brussels agenda of Sir John Major and Lord Heseltine and they built a sustained narrative telling us that he was uniquely unsuited by character and temperament to occupy 10 Downing Street at all.
They tried to turn his heartfelt, respectful and sensible response to a terror attack – in which he called for tougher sentencing that would improve public protection – against him by saying he was callous for not endorsing the ultra-liberal views on penal policy of the grieving father of one of the victims.
And they did not in the main do all these things because they were jealous of him, though many of them certainly were, but because they wanted to destroy the people’s vote we already had in 2016 and realised in horror that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – to give the hero of the hour his full name – actually intended to see Brexit through and had the nerve and the verve to do so.
But the British people as a whole – the sensible, grounded ones who respect democracy, Tory and Labour alike – have flocked to his banner because they recognise political courage and leadership when they see it and have thought to themselves: Let’s have a bit of that, flaws and all.
So Boris the winner has won again.
He has been PM for less than six months and already done the apparently impossible twice – securing a new Withdrawal Agreement from Brussels that did away with Theresa May’s “backstop” that locked us into EU control and now winning the first solid and sizeable working Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.
Every Tory leader gets compared to the party’s two 20th-century Titans – Thatcher and Churchill – usually highly unfavourably.
Comparisons with the latter – Boris Johnson’s hero and the subject of his 2014 biography – are always stretching a point.
But there are certain parallels that are hard to ignore – both men arrived in Downing Street at a moment of national crisis after a dithering and wooden Tory predecessor proved not up to the job, both instilled an instant sense of belief and confidence in the course they set among people from across the social classes, both came out the other end with a result others could not have achieved.
In Boris’s case it was not even a “damned close-run thing”.
He smashed Jeremy Corbyn in this election and, as a consequence, the Labour Party lies broken on the floor like an old jigsaw puzzle whose pieces no longer fit together.
The faces of the Remainer elite were something to behold early on Friday as Conservative gain after Conservative gain was confirmed.
Former Tories such as Justine Greening spoke through gritted teeth when asked how he had confounded their diagnosis of a vote-losing lurch away from the centre ground.
Ashen-faced John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, seemed almost literally in shock.
Then there were the delightful moments when Brexit-blocker after Brexit-blocker lost seats, from Jo “I wannabe prime minister” Swinson to Anna Soubry, from Chuka Umunna to Wakefield’s Mary Creagh, who began the campaign by primly claiming on BBC News that her Leave-voting town had changed its mind on Brexit.
She got stuffed by more than 3,000 votes
“Get Brexit Done”, Boris told us, time and again.
When they said he was boring, it was “Get Brexit Done”, when they asked him what gift he intended to get for his girlfriend at Christmas, he replied: “Get Brexit Done.”
Almost nobody in the routed Remainer elite now doubts he will do that.
Like Churchill, he has won his war – though in his case an apparently endless political tug‑of-war rather than one of the shooting variety.
The job facing Boris Johnson now is to win the peace – to create a more dynamic economy and a society where opportunities are more widely spread, to fashion a Tory Party that can not only win, but also hold on to, those traditional “red wall” Labour constituencies that went to it last night.
A Conservative Party for Wrexham and Wakefield and Great Grimsby as well as for its usual southern commuter belt.
That means he cannot tilt – and nor would he wish to – in an avowedly Thatcherite direction in terms of rolling back the state or paring back spending on key public services still further.
But perhaps he can still capture some of that spirit of go-getting economic optimism that marked the Iron Lady’s zenith.
So, with a new Roaring Twenties about to get underway as a tidal wave of investment delayed by Brexit uncertainty is unleashed, look out for some cultural icons to compete with those Filofaxes and red braces of the 1980s.
I have a feeling that in the case of Boris they may involve large new pieces of infrastructure springing up across our great northern and Midland towns and cities.
Johnson himself has already greeted his victory by telling colleagues that delivering Brexit is not enough.
He may have played it safe in his manifesto, but he knows that the story of the past few years has been a land with battened-down hatches, of people not moving house or taking the next big step in their careers because of not knowing what was going to happen with Brexit.
This widespread unfulfilled potential, endured with stoicism and patience, without doom but certainly involving a pervading sense of gloom, has not caused our country to fall apart.
In fact Britain has ticked over remarkably well in the circumstances, but it is time to unleash what the great inter-war economist John Maynard Keynes termed our “animal spirits”.
Who better to do so than the political colossus who now bestrides our nation, putting a smile on our faces in his own inimitable fashion – a gaffe here, a ripe moment there but setting an upbeat example to all?
When Boris Johnson shook hands on his new Withdrawal Agreement in Brussels, most observers could see at once that the other EU leaders, many of whom had been led to expect an ogre or an imbecile, had in fact been charmed by him and sensed they were looking at the guy they would be dealing with for years to come.
There is not much point now in Brussels playing ultra-hardball in the next round of talks with Britain – the future relationship discussions.
It knows it faces a prime minister who is not bluffing, not fearful, not being propped up by a fragile, lashed-together coalition.
It will negotiate hard but knows that he will walk away rather than roll over and that he will take his chances with British public opinion over who will get the blame – almost certainly the EU.
Is there time for a completely comprehensive EU-UK trade deal of the sort that will make the CEOs of big corporations purr in the 11 months scheduled between formally leaving the EU on January 31 and concluding a final set of future arrangements?
But can something perfectly serviceable be achieved that will allow the EU good continued access to its biggest market, while also giving UK exporters a fair deal and letting our country take its own trajectory in the wider world again?
You bet it can.
The Tory so-called “Gaukeward Squad” has evaporated, the Lib Dems can fit in a minibus, Labour is at least two terms away from a comeback, the DUP is no longer able to wreak havoc with the parliamentary arithmetic and only the stern, steely gaze of Nicola Sturgeon suggests a domestic adversary the Prime Minister needs to handle with special care.
Brilliant Britain’s post-Brexit adventure can finally get underway.