Anyone claiming to be able to pass expert judgement on Boris Johnson’s premiership at this early stage is talking absolute nonsense. Yes, I'm ready to be disappointed, but at the moment I'm optimistic. Boris Johnson, I believe, has the capacity to be Britain's greatest conservative prime minister since Margaret Thatcher.
Almost no one has a good word to say about Britain's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Those on the right dismiss him either as a feckless libertine who thinks with his private parts (historian David Starkey) or a conservative-in-name-only, useless on detail, and with 'no political or moral compass' (Spectator columnist Bruce Anderson). Those on the left insist that he is a dangerous, right-wing lunatic whose threats of 'crashing out' of the EU with a No Deal Brexit could jeopardise Britain for generations, and whose careless rhetoric (black people called "piccaninnies"; Muslim women in burkas looking like "letter boxes") betrays an inner racist whom ethnic and religious minorities should rightly fear.
Having known Boris Johnson since university, I recognise none of these criticisms. Or rather I do, up to a point: given his marital track record and his affairs which include children out of wedlock, I can hardly deny his priapism. All I mean is that anyone claiming to be able to pass expert judgement on the man or his premiership at this early stage is talking absolute nonsense. Yes, I'm ready to be disappointed, but at the moment I'm optimistic. Boris Johnson, I believe, has the capacity to be Britain's greatest conservative prime minister since Margaret Thatcher and, before that, his hero Winston Churchill.
Like Churchill, Boris has a powerful sense of his own destiny. At Oxford, he stood out a mile from his callow, virginal undergraduate contemporaries not just because of his dishevelled white-blond hair or his obvious, if masked, intelligence but because he seemed to know already exactly who he was and what he wanted. While the rest of us were experimenting with our clothes, our accents and personae, Boris was the man he is today: bluff, witty, charismatic, shambolic, self-parodically spouting Classical epithets in those fruity old fashioned tones redolent of Biggles and Billy Bunter. He even had a beautiful, soon-to-be fiancee - Allegra, a model, no less, who'd appeared on the cover of Tatler. How could such a larger-than-life figure not go far?
"Every time a friend succeeds I die a little," Gore Vidal famously said, but I'm not sure that I ever felt that way towards Boris, as I watched his apparently effortless rise: from Times leader writer to Telegraph Brussels correspondent; gaining celebrity on Have I Got News For You; winning two terms as the first and only conservative Mayor in Labour-dominated London - and becoming more world famous than even the Prime Minister when he hosted the London Olympics; leading the successful campaign for Brexit; and now the biggest prize of all. That's perhaps because - in the nicest possible way - Boris has never felt like a real person to me. He has lots of very fond acquaintances but few, if any, intimate friends. As his idol Churchill once said of Russia, he's a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
But speculation about who Boris is or what he really believes is beside the point. The only thing you need to know about Boris right now is this: he doesn't like to lose. Sure there are plenty of character flaws that may distract him from the true path - his lack of ideological rigour, his dislike of confrontation and his need to be liked - but they won't because he knows he has a job to do; and that if he fails it will be curtains not just for his party and his country but, even worse, his posterity.
That job, in the first instance, is delivering Brexit. Not the cackhanded, Brexit-in-name-only that his dismal predecessor Theresa May tried unsuccessfully to foist on the electorate. Nothing but the real deal will suffice and Boris knows this. So, at any rate, I have been assured by several members of the European Research Group (the soundest, most Brexity wing of the Tory party). They backed Boris heavily in the leadership contest; now they expect their just reward - not just in cabinet positions for the likes of Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg but also in the honouring of Boris's promise to leave the EU, come what way, by October 31st.
How he'll deliver this isn't yet clear. But the auguries are good. Already he has appointed as his senior advisor a hardline Eurosceptic called Daniel Moylan; he has - it is rumoured - been in secret talks with The Brexit Party's Nigel Farage to work out how to avoid splitting the Brexit vote in the general election he'll almost inevitably have to call to frustrate the current Remain-dominated parliament; and from within the European Union there are already encouraging signs of fear and panic that Boris is going to be a much tougher nut to crack than May. Go Boris! For all our sakes, this is a battle you can't afford to lose! Which is why, happily, he won't.