It's been a week when Boris Johnson finally threw off his clown's mask and showed his ruthless heart when he made Chancellor Sajid Javid an offer he had to refuse. Politics has always been a rough old game, and just to labour (with a small 'l') the point, Ron McKay flicks through the history books ...

IF all political lives end in failure the scale of it can be monumental, more often than not occasioned by supposed colleagues – be it over war, Europe, the economy, opportunism or double-dealing, but almost always motivated by naked political self-interest and survival.

In a lengthy litany, from the wake of the First World War, to the axing of ministers last week, the casualties are significant. Here are just a few ...

David Lloyd George had enjoyed an illustrious political career, including serving as Prime Minister during the First World War and brokering the settlement which established the Irish Free State. He was a Liberal in coalition with Conservatives in government.

In October 1922, the Tories withdrew from the coalition over Britain’s foreign policy in Turkey, forcing Lloyd George to resign. Lloyd George, with Churchill’s support, had wanted to go to war with Turkey because the Turks, after defeating the Greeks, were advancing on Constantinople in the neutral zone.

Forced to resign with the collapse of the coalition, Lloyd George’s position in history seemed secure – but for his resignation honours list which provoked a major scandal. The allegation was that he was raising funds for his party through a political fixer, a pre-Dominic Cummings character called Maundy Gregory, by operating a price list for peerages, ranging from £10,000 (more than £400,000 today) for a knighthood up to £40,000 for a baronetcy. The whisky millionaire Jimmy Buchanan wrote a hefty cheque – dated January 2, the day after the list was to be announced – signing with his preferred title. He duly did become Baron Woolavington.

Anthony Eden had been Foreign Secretary under Churchill following the Second World War, but when he succeeded him in1955 he was to embark on the most grave and catastrophic British military intervention of the 20th century (worse even than Iraq) – the invasion of Egypt, in concert with France and Israel. The Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalised the Suez Canal in July 1956 and three months later the allied forces launched the attack.

Britain had been strongly warned by US President Dwight Eisenhower not to go ahead with it, and further pressure resulted in the humiliating climbdown and the pulling out of troops days after the occupation. Eden resigned in January 1957, his reputation in tatters. It was ironic that his greatest failure came in the area of policy that he had specialised in over three decades – foreign affairs.

When Eden resigned, Harold Macmillan emerged from the wreckage of Suez to lead a demoralised Conservative party and a country still riven. However, as living standards and prosperity in Britain rose, "Supermac", as he was dubbed, was able to claim that the British public had “never had it so good”. This was to prove a mighty hostage to fortune.

By 1963, the economy was again in the doldrums and Macmillan was increasingly portrayed as out of touch. The sacking of six Cabinet ministers in an event that became known as the “night of the long knives” – eat your heart out, Boris – did little to improve matters. After a series of scandals, the most damaging of which involved the war minister John Profumo and the call girl Christine Keeler, he resigned in October 1963.

It was Enoch Powell who coined the truism that all political lives end in failure. It was especially poignant in his case. In April 1968, he gave his “Rivers of blood” speech in Birmingham, which was the instrument of his own demise. He was campaigning against Commonwealth immigration to the UK and the proposed race relations act which he vehemently opposed. Although he didn’t actually say rivers of blood in the speech – he quoted Virgil, as he would as a Classics scholar, about foreseeing “the River Tiber foaming with blood” – nevertheless the outrage it caused led to him being dismissed from Edward Heath’s Tory shadow Cabinet.

Arguably his anti-immigration stance was a decisive factor in Heath – his arch enemy – and the Conservatives’ surprise victory in the 1970 General Election. With opinion polls showing up to 80% in favour of his suggested curbs, it may even have cost Heath the 1974 election, with Powell calling for a Labour vote. Powell became an Ulster Unionist MP but never resiled from his anti-immigrant stance. Had he kept quiet, or expressed himself differently, he could well have become Prime Minister.

The most important and impactful plunge from success, but which paved the way for the country’s salvation, was that of Neville Chamberlain, who had visited Germany in attempts to appease Adolf Hitler’s territorial ambitions. He landed at Heston airport on September 30, 1938, and black-and-white newsreels record him waving a piece of paper, a supposed agreement with the Fuhrer, declaring: “I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

Dream on. Although the news was suppressed by the BBC, 15,000 people had turned out in Trafalgar Square to protest against the Munich agreement, which Hitler effectively tore up in March 1939 anyway when he annexed Bohemia and Moravia and, five months later, Poland.

Chamberlain was still tenuously hanging on to office but after the declaration of war and a disastrous attempt to liberate Norway he was forced to resign, making way for Winston Churchill without whose leadership you would be reading this in German today.

“Sunny Jim” Callaghan won the Labour Party leadership election in 1976 following the surprise resignation of Harold Wilson. Inflation had hit almost 17% and attempts by the Government to reduce inflation through wage restrictions for public-sector workers caused a wave of strikes across the winter of 1978 to 1979, known as the “Winter of Discontent”. A motion of no confidence against the Callaghan Government was called by opposition MPs in Parliament in March 1979. It was passed by one vote. Eleven SNP MPs, who had previously supported Labour, voted with the Tory motion. And Margaret Thatcher was ushered in.

Brexit, the issue of Britain in Europe, has destroyed three prime ministers and only time will tell whether that tally will be added to. It finally saw to Margaret Thatcher, after her three terms in power. However, and ironically, it was her increasing anti-Europe rhetoric (which makes her retrospectively the idol of the European Research Group) which destroyed her in a very Welsh coup.

Geoffrey Howe, originally from Port Talbot although you couldn’t detect it in his speech, who had been demoted by Thatcher, attacked her in his resignation speech. She was already under pressure in the Tory party, 60 of her MPs had failed to back her in an earlier, unsuccessful bid to unseat her, and the rumbling resistance to her poll tax had also substantially weakened her.

But it was Michael Heseltine, born in Swansea, the man who had walked out of her Cabinet five years earlier, who was to wield the fatal blow. He mounted a leadership challenge, knowing he was too divisive a figure, an ardent pro-European, to win, but although Thatcher won the first ballot her authority was over. And following a visitation from the men in grey suits, the Iron Lady tearfully resigned, leaving the way open for John Major to come through and succeed her in a career notable for mediocrity (and a bit of rumpy pumpy with Edwina Currie).

David Cameron was the second Tory prime minster to be defenestrated over Europe. The Eurosceptics in his ranks, orchestrated by Jacob Rees-Mogg and whipped on by Nigel Farage from outside, took the calculated gamble of calling an “in-out” referendum, a totally uninformed gamble as it transpired, with 52% of the country voting to go. He also underestimated the support he had on his own backbenches, as well as the BoJo factor – Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London, leading the Leave campaign.

Theresa May, perhaps the most inept prime minister in living memory, was the next to be skewered over Europe. Johnson was now notionally inside the tent, as an MP, but he was not directing bile out. In October 2018, May had mum-danced onto stage at the Tory party conference to Abba’s Dancing Queen – the music when she finally resigned in June last year might as well have been the group’s SOS.

She had called a snap General Election which hadn’t delivered the healthy majority she was after, survived a vote of no confidence, and had three times failed to pilot her Brexit withdrawal Bill through the Commons. She even mooted a fourth attempt, with a referendum promise if it succeeded. It didn’t. Her desperate and chaotic premiership was over.

All of which puts Johnson’s prodding of Sajid Javid over the side as merely a faint splash. He will have to try much harder if he is to rank with the notable failures, and he probably will.