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Boris might be finished – but we still have one thing to thank him for

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 3/22/2023 Michael Deacon
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn - Hannah Mckay © Hannah Mckay Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn - Hannah Mckay

Boris Johnson’s stock could hardly be lower. The Privileges Committee’s inquiry into whether he lied to MPs over partygate is likely to end any faint hopes he may have of a political comeback. It may even result in him facing a by-election, and losing his seat in the Commons altogether.

But, no matter how tarnished his reputation may currently seem, and no matter how angry or let down some of his former supporters may be feeling, we need to put things in perspective. Because, whatever we may think about partygate, we should never let it overshadow the single most valuable service that Boris Johnson performed for this nation.

Stopping Jeremy Corbyn from becoming prime minister.

It may all seem a very long time ago. But we mustn’t lose sight of how important Mr Johnson’s victory in 2019 was. Contrary to the claims of poor old Jo Swinson, that election offered us only two candidates for the job of leading the country. And we should still be grateful that Mr Johnson won. Yes, Britain’s in bad shape right now. But if we’d voted to put the Labour Left in power, things would be even worse.

Imagine, for example, that we’d gone into a pandemic led by Mr Corbyn. This is a man who has frequently voiced distrust of “Big Pharma” (as in, the pharmaceutical firms that went on to produce the life-saving Covid vaccines). He’s also defended homeopathy (or, to use the proper medical term, unscientific nonsense). Just the man you want, presiding over the greatest health emergency in 100 years.

Mr Corbyn’s brother Piers, meanwhile, spent 2021 leading protests against the vaccines. Obviously, we can’t hold a man responsible for what his brother thinks. But their family relationship would inevitably have given Piers’s protests far greater prominence. Imagine if the news bulletins had been led every night by a man shrieking: “Don’t listen to my brother, the prime minister!” Think of the damage that could have done to public confidence.

In Mr Corbyn’s defence, we can at least be reasonably confident that he and his staff wouldn’t have spent lockdown swigging suitcases of wine. Not least because Mr Corbyn doesn’t drink. (This is why I’ve always said it’s wrong to call him a champagne socialist. We urgently need to coin a new term. A lemonade Leninist? A mint tea Marxist? A kombucha communist? A teetotal Tito?)

Then again, it’s worth remembering that Mr Corbyn did actually break Covid rules himself. In October 2020, he apologised for attending a dinner party that broke the “rule of six”. So who knows? Had he been PM, he might well have ended up being embroiled in his own form of partygate. (“Yes, there was a birthday cake. But I can assure you, the recipe was vegan, and I offset the carbon emissions from the candles by planting a new gooseberry bush in the Downing Street allotment.”)

On top of Covid, think of the other crises that PM Corbyn would have had to handle. Let’s not bore ourselves silly by dwelling on Brexit – except to recall that he pledged to hold a second referendum. Which would have been fun. Especially if, thanks to Covid, we couldn’t leave our houses to go and vote.

Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky - STRINGER © Provided by The Telegraph Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky - STRINGER

Most importantly of all, though, imagine how PM Corbyn would have responded to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Boris Johnson led the West’s drive to arm Zelensky. Mr Corbyn, by contrast, has consistently argued against it. “Pouring arms in isn’t going to bring about a solution,” he protested last August. “It’s only going to prolong and exaggerate this war. We might be in for years and years of war in Ukraine.”

Not under PM Corbyn we wouldn’t. Because, but for our arms, Putin would have won months ago.

That’s something we should never forget. And it’s why, despite everything, we still owe Boris Johnson a serious debt. Commentators will say he’s finished, and they may very well be right. But, even if his political career ends in ignominy, Mr Johnson will always be able to turn to his critics, stand up tall, and say this: “Hey, at least I wasn’t the other guy.”

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