Roger Ratcliffe on the former
prime minister fatally
attracted to power

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There is a movie sub-genre known as the fake-out death. The example everyone seems to remember best (spoiler alert) is Fatal Attraction in which a murderous Glenn Close attacks Michael Douglas in his bathroom and in self-defence it looks like he has drowned her.

In Jaws we’re made to think that Robert Shaw has successfully harpooned the killer shark, and more recently Janelle Monáe appears to take a fatal bullet in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, only to be saved by precisely the same trick that allowed Godfrey Tearle to go on breathing in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 version of The 39 Steps. Fake-out deaths are as old as cinema.

This week I confidently predict the on-screen resurrection of another villain we all thought we’d seen the last of, one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Last summer, you will recall, Johnson was forced to commit political hara-kiri when his own cabinet and MPs finally snapped after a convulsive series of lies and scandals involving the then prime minister became too much to stomach even for them. But now, just when you thought it was safe to switch the telly back on, Johnson returns.

Not to Number 10, thankfully. He is appearing in front of the House of Commons Privileges Committee to answer the charge that he told porkies to parliament about Partygate. It is being televised live, and will have taken place before many of you read this, but writing several days ahead I am prepared to forecast that two things will happen.

First, the word “mislead” will be used to mask the vile stench emanating from the accusation that Johnson “lied” about the series of drinks parties that took place in Downing Street while the rest of us were in strict, legally enforceable lockdowns. It seems that MPs mislead and it’s the rest of us who tell lies.

To most of us it was pretty obvious a year ago that he is guilty as charged but since then further damning evidence has come to light, not least a statement from one witness saying that Johnson told a packed No 10 room in November 2020 that “this is probably the most unsocially distanced gathering in the UK right now”.

Second, we will see what film critics would doubtless describe as a “bravura performance” from Johnson, a brilliant display of acting in which he insists he is entirely innocent because no one told him he was breaking his own rules. I’m sure it will be up for a Bafta award next time round. Johnson won’t be much concerned with that, however. According to those in the know, his one aim is to depose Rishi Sunak before the next election and return to Downing Street.

As it happens, another ex-leader of the Conservatives, William Hague, wrote in his Times column last week that erstwhile leaders who cling on endanger democracies, and that Israel’s Netanyahu and Donald Trump in the US are addicted to power to the detriment of their countries. Somehow, Hague managed to write over 1,000 words on this theme without mentioning Johnson once.

It remains to be seen whether the appearance in front of the Commons Privileges Committee will finally kill off Johnson’s career – its members could effectively ban him from being an MP – or whether we will see another fake-out death.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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