So it's farewell to Boris Johnson, a Prime Minister like no other

Love him or hate him, Boris Johnson was a Prime Minister like no other we have ever experienced.

Boris Johnson enjoying a pint during a visit to The Mount Tavern in Wolverhampton in 2021
Boris Johnson enjoying a pint during a visit to The Mount Tavern in Wolverhampton in 2021

Viewed with suspicion and resentment by many of his parliamentary colleagues, he was Westminster’s ‘special one’, a once in a lifetime politician who seemingly had the world at his feet.

The truth is that like much of this country’s broadcast media, they never seemed to cotton on to what it was that made him such a draw.

Mr Johnson made regular trips to the West Midlands, Shropshire and Staffordshire. He enthusiastically stressed that it was a part of the country he adores.

The Prime Minister has frequently been mobbed, drawing crowds that other politicians could only dream of. Across the country there will be thousands of people boasting slightly chaotic selfies with Boris on their phone.

Before he was PM, as the figurehead for Brexit he was pure box office and powerful with it.

He brought Stafford to a standstill when he dropped into town on the infamous “£350m-a-week for the NHS” bus.

A couple of years later when he visited the headquarters of Midland News Association, which publishes the Express & Star and Shropshire Star, he insisted on ditching the ministerial car for a stroll along Wolverhampton’s Queen Street. He posed for selfies with groups of excited school kids and chatted happily with local traders.

He was also greeted like a conquering hero on a visit to Wombourne ahead of the 2019 Tory leadership contest. On that occasion he burst through the doors of the Civic Centre like a giant blonde whirling dervish, before laying out his grand plans for the country as a packed crowd cheered him on.

It is impossible to forget his childlike excitement on a visit last year to West Midlands Metro’s transport depot.

As bemused transport workers looked on, the PM sat beaming behind the controls of a tram apparently desperate to take the thing for a spin down to West Bromwich.

Mr Johnson has always had time for his public, whether it be popping into the The Mount Tavern on Penn Road for a pint, or chatting with youngsters taking part in the Queen’s Baton Relay at Perry Barr’s Alexander Stadium.

He chose Telford to launch the 2019 general election manifesto, four years after bounding in as mayor of London to meet trainees during a business trip. And even when North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson went, he was full of energy and enthusiasm as he tore around a pharmacy in the Shropshire town of Oswestry, keen to talk up vaccines and to chat with staff and customers.

The fact is that, in the Black Country, Shropshire and Staffordshire at least, his public mostly loved him.

It is a different side of his character than the one we are used to seeing on national news broadcasts, which tend to target unsavoury public reactions from less enthusiastic parts of the country, such as Manchester.

Mr Johnson has the charisma that can take an individual to the highest position in office – a natural warmth that means for many people spending time with him, no matter how briefly, is an unforgettable experience.

He is capable of captivating a room by his mere presence.

Even during his darkest hour earlier this week, when ministers were quitting on him left, right and centre, he took the time to meet the family of Ryan Passey.

They were in Westminster to discuss their recommendations for improved support for families in criminal cases involving an acquittal.

The fact that Mr Johnson stepped away from the chaos surrounding his premiership and took the time to chat with them speaks volumes for his character.

It certainly meant the world to them.

Mr Johnson has often recalled that the short time he spent living in Bilston, while doing work experience at the Express & Star, cemented his Conservative views.

As an Etonian born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it contrasted greatly with his upbringing.

It is not a stretch to say that the West Midlands shaped his politics – which, incidentally, are far removed from those of the Tory hardliners he often gets lumped in with.

He has admitted it was an education, opening his eyes to the reality of life for millions and, he says, making him determined to open up opportunity for all.

It was also an early hint at his ‘levelling up’ agenda policy that became his key pledge that helped hand him the keys to Number 10.

But for all his warmth and good intentions, Mr Johnson has proved himself to be a deeply flawed leader.

He achieved the seemingly impossible task of getting Britain out of its Brexit logjam – something that no other politician could have done.

He made all the right moves on the vaccine roll out. The national effort to get jabbed lifted the morale of the nation after a torrid time during Covid and is one of his stand-out successes.

Mr Johnson, let’s not forget, led the country through the pandemic, which almost cost him his life.

He has has also become something of a national hero in Ukraine, standing up to Putin in a way that puts the likes of Joey Biden and Emmanuel Macron to shame.

For Mr Johnson, while he held the keys to Number 10 everything was possible and nothing was off the table.

His ambitions for this country knew no bounds.

But somewhere along the way he took his eye off the ball. From a man who could do no wrong, he suddenly found himself in a series of political scrapes.

Never a man for detail, while Mr Johnson was focused on saving the planet at the COP22 summit last autumn, the first major strike against his authority was dealt in the form of the Owen Paterson scandal.

The Liberal Democrats showed that large Tory majorities could be overturned. It planted a seed in the minds of the public that has since led to further by-election disasters.

The political damage that started with the North Shropshire by-election snowballed in the months that followed, resulting in a situation where most of his plans will probably never come to fruition.

While accusations of being economical with the truth have dogged him his entire political career, Mr Johnson’s supporters maintain that when it comes to the big decisions, he has generally got it right.

But over the last 10 months it’s hard to argue for that being the case.

Look at the current state of the country.

The judicial system is in a complete mess with cases delayed for years. People are waiting months for a passport or a driving licence, while fuel and food prices are hitting record levels.

The rail workers have been on strike and the teachers and NHS could soon follow them out. Illegal immigrants are piling in from across the Channel while the Government’s Rwanda plan gets held up by human rights lawyers.

It’s certainly not all Mr Johnson’s fault, but it takes more than charisma to lead a country through such testing times.

Despite all this, there is no doubt that Mr Johnson will be some act to follow.

None of the Conservative hopefuls to succeed him currently have anything like his appeal with the public.

It seems highly unlikely that, for example, Jeremy Hunt will have people flocking to see him should ever take a walk around Dudley Market.

And make no mistake, whoever Mr Johnson’s successor turns out to be will be faced with large proportion of the electorate furious at Tory MPs for how they have harpooned the man they put their faith in less than three years ago.

In the so called ‘red wall’ areas, including parts of the Black Country, many of those who voted Conservative in 2019 did not do so out of some new found faith in the party.

The same is true in key marginal seats like Telford, which often dictate how the national vote is going to go.

After decades of voting Labour, people in West Bromwich didn’t suddenly decide that Tory economic policy was the way forward after all.

They didn’t vote Tory because they believed wholeheartedly in their constituency MP either.

Quite simply, they wanted Boris Johnson to run the country.

His departure leaves a gaping hole that opposition parties will no doubt fancy their chances of filling at the next general election – whenever that may be.

Sir Keir Starmer is being portrayed as the king in waiting. But the Labour leader has been labelled a man who could send a room of insomniacs to sleep.

He will certainly need to up his game on his last appearance in Wolverhampton, when to put it politely, no one had a clue who he was.

As far as Mr Johnson is concerned, all that is left is a sense of what might have been.

One thing is for sure – there will certainly never be another one like him.

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