As Britain waits to find out which way Boris Johnson will jump in the EU referendum, my mind turns to the way things used to be in what we historians call the olden days. Waiting for Boris reminds me of the situation that pertained in the mediaeval and early modern era, when there tended to great excitement and anticipation when the Queen went into labour. What would emerge? A boy or a girl? Would the kingdom get an heir? Did the new arrival portend political security or future instability? And then came the great moment.
From the Palace gates, where a proclamation was posted, court officials gave orders and dispatched runners across the capital so that the news would be disseminated to the rest of the kingdom.
Lord Chamberlain: “Run man! Let the message ring out! It is a boy!”
Runner: “And what about the Queen?”
Lord Chamberlain: “Who?”
Runner: “The Queen? How fares the Queen after her ordeal?”
Lord Chamberlain: “Oh, I see yes. The Queen is fine. Now run, man, run! Spread the news.”
And when the first of the thirsty runners on his way to the pamphleteers and print shops clustered around St Paul’s (since Henry VIII cleared the space for Protestant propagandists) stopped at an inn down near the River Fleet for a breather and a sharpener he told the barmaid the latest hot news. She would have been delighted: “Oh, thankee kindly sir. The Queen has this day given us a boy who will be king! Lord preserve us, the kingdom is safe and our fragile constitutional system is good for at least another three or four centuries, subject to Whig meddling and Tony Blair’s asymmetrical devolution programme. This male heir is the best news we English have had since the Reformation. To celebrate I’ll have an extra bottle of gin tonight.”
That situation is not directly comparable to the waiting game that Britain is currently playing over Boris, but there is a similarity in that, rather awkwardly for Boris, the outcome cannot be delayed forever. In that respect, I had originally thought that his indecision reminded me of Waiting or Godot, the Beckett play in which (spoiler) Godot is a no show. That doesn’t fit though as this time Boris has to show up one way or the other. Remember, Boris is not a natural Outer (he is secretly pro-EU), but a great potential prize awaits him if he opts for Leave and becomes its leader. This time he cannot choose to have his cake and eat it, however. This week he will have to decide one way or the other whether he backs Leave or Remain. The decision is binary and he will have to choose within 72 hours.