What does it say about Britain that Boris Johnson’s possible return has overshadowed the actual candidacy announcement by Rishi Sunak?

Whether the ex-PM decides to stand again or the former Chancellor is “crowned” later today by a Tory MP cabal so small that the Truss election by 175,000 members looks positively democratic – what does it say that papers and media have collapsed into uncontrollable jabbering over the vanishingly small chance we’ll be saddled with two more years of disruptive, disgraced but familiar Boris?

Yes, he sells papers, while the need for “boring stability” doesn’t and we should be conscious if not astonished that the Tories have already reframed a future of savage cuts and damaging austerity in such a brazenly misleading way.

Yes, the unexpected return of a loved/loathed character can restore ratings, revive sagging storylines and create a useful collective suspension of disbelief. But we are not living in a soap opera. Boris Johnson is not Bobby Ewing. And London is not Dallas.

So, what does it say about the Tory membership, and Tory-voting English electorate that both are caught in a frenzy of excitement that the Dirty Den of Downing Street might swing back “home” and start pulling pints as if he’s never been away?

Of course, that’s a possibility Tory MPs themselves are busily trying to block Boris, with the Tory right and Brexiteers like Steve Baker, Kemi Badenoch and David Frost coming out for Rishi Sunak, while eminences grises like William Hague warn grimly of a "death spiral" should Boris return.

And of course, there always is a gap between parliamentary parties and rank-and-file supporters, but the sizeable, enduring and wilful disconnect between the rest of the world and Tory members is truly bizarre.

The froth amongst mature adults over the return of a mythological, tousle-haired saviour is like that of young children uncontrollably excited on Christmas Eve about the imminent arrival of Santa. Boris the Saviour is a fantasy figure and everyone over the age of seven knows it.

So, what's going on amongst Tory voters down south? Is their collective memory now so short that the only alternative to the last disastrous political leader is the previous one? Is support for Boris really about the man or just a blindsided desperation for the familiar – someone who delivered only ordinary, pre-Truss levels of pain? Tweedledee and Tweedledum – is that all they’ve got?

If we are doing false memory syndrome, then what about the relatively halcyon days before Boris. Do Tory members not remember a time before othering slogans and addictive promises of past glory swept through large parts of the English electorate like crack cocaine?

Apparently not. Their Boris-fixation defines an influential part of the English electorate in a truly depressing way – so innately pessimistic about all things new and beyond their ken (and control), that past failures must be embraced and reshaped with false claims of competence, so quickly and firmly embedded in the public psyche, that no interviewer dares question them.

It’s like a collective form of Stockholm Syndrome.

But these 175,000 largely willing prisoners will also determine our fate. Or they would if MPs weren’t working overtime to ‘take back control’ from a Tory membership, insulated enough from economic pain that it can afford this dalliance with right-wing blame-games and an enduring obsession with fallen figureheads.

But Boris loves a good narrative and flying back to the rescue of Blighty is so tasty, he has not been able to resist a try. It seems likely though that his claim of having a hundred supporters is just so much hogwash and that overnight, saner heads (and a deal) will have persuaded Johnson to desist.

But if he does finally stand down in favour of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Johnson’s will not be the only teeth privately gnashing. Keir Starmer and Nicola Sturgeon may well be cursing the loss of a premier so toxic to their core vote and so damaged that his leadership and government could disappear at any moment.

Obviously, the imminent Privileges Committee report over Partygate make him a walking liability – though in many ways that’s also a convenient excuse. As erstwhile supporter Steve Baker said yesterday: "This isn't the time for Boris's style” – which also nodded to the years of empty boosterism, the Pincher affair, the resignation of 62 Tory MPs and the bare-faced lying as thousands of law-abiding British people died scared and alone.

Of course, if Boris is stopped, we won’t need to repeat the list of his many failures. But Keir Starmer might have to. Even though Labour is 30 points ahead, the potency of the Johnson sugar-rush shows how precarious that lead might be, and how Labour has failed to create an alternative narrative powerful enough to combat the false security of the Tory past. That’s partly because Keir Starmer hasn’t the political courage to say what some Tory MPs are now admitting – Brexit has been an abject, economy-destroying failure.

If Labour’s compelling new narrative is just being a bit more fiscally careful than the Tories, English voters might easily be persuaded to fall back into a comforting time warp. Especially if Mr Johnson can be persuaded into some innocuous, Rishi-supporting role in a government of “all the Tory talents”.

Doubtless the SNP also prefer a Boris re-run to a Sunak premiership, since that would demolish the Scottish Tories and leave British governance looking utterly broken. But if the chance of a lawful independence referendum is higher with Labour – whatever Keir Starmer’s current hard-line stance – the SNP should beware what it wishes for.

Without the unaccountable pzazz of Boris Johnson, the Tory leadership stands revealed for exactly what it is. A bunch of market-obsessed, washed-out, reality-denying millionaires and instinctive elitists whose failure to invest public cash in the public realm has left Britain broken, unsustainable, unequal and almost un-investable.

The end of all Boris-induced distraction might finally allow some sober scrutiny of the future. And for Scotland, that’s urgent.

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