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Chris Deerin: Our new PM can no longer run. There is nowhere to hide

© Lindsey Parnaby/PA WireBoris Johnson poses for selfies in County Durham after his election win
Boris Johnson poses for selfies in County Durham after his election win

Out of the fridge and into the frying pan, no more hiding from journalists in chilly bunkers or giving Andrew Neil the swerve.

Boris the carefully managed candidate is suddenly Boris the Prime Minister, with his own thumping majority and mandate.

Electorally, he’s pulled off something extraordinary. But with power comes accountability.

Things will change now. They always do. The rather odd, liminal spectacle of that rumpled blonde mop representing us on the world stage, japing with the Trumps and the Macrons, jousting with the Putins and the Merkels, will become the familiar norm. He will be at the helm through national crises, foreign policy scrapes and tough annual budgets. The comedy act will become a statesman, a figure with historical weight; he will visibly age in office, as they always do, and we will age with him. The 2020s will be Boris’s Britain.

So what can we expect? Which Boris Johnson will we get? It’s telling that this is one of the key debates not just among the electorate but among his Conservative colleagues. The unknowability of the Prime Minister’s mind – that place where his vast ego and ambition collide with his values and conscience – is a curious thing.

Will he lead an England First government, appeasing the Faragists, orchestrating the hardest of Brexits and to hell with the consequences for the economy and the union? Or will he sprint for the centre ground, try to move the country on from the bitter divisions of Brexit, and deliver on the One Nation rhetoric? “Let the healing begin”, or, for Scotland and the UK, a parting of the ways?

The electoral maths points us towards Johnson governing as a Tory centrist, perhaps even as something akin to a Blairite. His majority is large enough that he is not beholden to any one tribe in the Conservative Party – the hard Brexiteers of the ERG, who held the last, minority government to ransom, are drained of power. Those Labour seats in the north and Midlands of England that he gobbled up like a vote-munching Pac Man expect payback – a revived economy, a stake in the modern world, a fair shake.

There’s a reason he went to Sedgefield yesterday, on his first proper day in the job.

And with Labour’s hard-Left convulsions likely to continue for years yet, that centre ground, where elections are won, is wide open for the Tories.

Money will be spent. Infrastructure will be built, the NHS budget bulked up, more police will be hired. The pace of technological change will pick up over the next few years, requiring a rewiring of the economy, the jobs market and the education system. In all this Johnson will have to ensure provincial Britain, which put him in Downing Street, isn’t left behind, as so many communities were during the Thatcher revolution of the 1980s.

One of the keys to understanding Boris Johnson is that he wants to be liked. For all the nastiness of the election campaign, he will want to be popular in office. He will want to keep his sense of humour, be conciliatory, not be jeered and booed whenever he ventures outside Number 10.

But the obstacles to delivering, to letting the good times roll, are real – Brexit will have unavoidable consequences and impose significant restrictions; Scotland may head for the exit door; it is not clear where or if the money for a spending splurge will be found.

These are the challenges Boris Johnson must overcome, and on which we will judge him. There is no hiding place.