Sebastian Payne joins Atalanta to discuss new book
19 December 2022 · 2 min read
Earlier this month, Atalanta was delighted to welcome the Financial Times Whitehall Editor, Sebastian Payne, to discuss his best-selling new book, The Fall of Boris Johnson, at an exclusive breakfast event in our Holborn office.
Sebastian shared a behind-the-scenes account of Prime Minister Johnson’s fall from grace, his reflections on the current government, and the risks and opportunities for the Labour party in the lead-up to the next general election.
Outlining the key events that contributed to Johnson’s fall, Sebastian said that ultimately it was the three Ps—Owen Patterson, partygate, and Chris Pincher—that brought him down. Although the former Prime Minister showed flashes of leadership—bringing in Dame Kate Bingham and Dame Emily Lawson to work on vaccine manufacturing and roll-out, as well as showing global leadership on Ukraine—ultimately, Sebastian concluded Johnson’s worst enemy was himself. His inability to get a grip on scandals and failure to effectively manage the government meant that when the end came, it was brutally quick.
Sebastian’s behind-the-scenes account of the literal “bunker” that saw Boris and his team locked in a room for 24 hours before his resignation revealed the chaos at the heart of Number 10 in those final hours, with the PM struggling to assemble a cabinet and even loyal staff despairing.
Reflecting on what could be next for Johnson, Sebastian told guests he thought a comeback before the election scheduled for 2024 was unlikely and, given current polling numbers, his West London seat might even be at risk in that election. Given Johnson’s work supporting Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion, one potential option would see him lead international efforts to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine.
Closing his remarks with a discussion on the current political situation in Westminster, Sebastian noted that voters haven’t yet made their minds up on Prime Minister Sunak, but Labour’s attempt to depict him as weak was beginning to have cut through. Sebastian believed that Sunak and his team would need to work to counter that with some big announcements early in 2023.
On Labour, Sebastian reflected that the party wins when it has a strong vision for change and the future of the United Kingdom. In 1945, Clement Attlee set out the blueprint for the creation of the “New Jerusalem” and in 1997, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown defined their vision for the millennium under “New Labour.” He said that Sir Keir Starmer and his team hadn’t yet outlined a big vision for the country under Labour, relying on Conservative infighting and exhaustion for their current lead in the polls. For the Labour team, staying united until the next election would also be a critical challenge.
All of this means that British politics will most likely continue to be unpredictable over the next two years, although Sebastian finished on a note of hope that it would be more defined by policy rather than personality!
Thank you to Sebastian and our guests for joining us. If you are interested in attending future events, please do reach out to [email protected]. If you would like a copy of Sebastian’s book, it can be ordered here.