Sir Keir Starmer has recalled dropping his head in his hands at the prospect of Boris Johnson running again for No 10, suggesting the comeback was “never going to work”.
The Labour leader said his “first sentiment” on hearing Mr Johnson had ruled himself out of the race was that “he didn’t have the numbers” required to secure a spot on the Tory ballot.
The former prime minister claimed to have amassed at least 102 nominations, surpassing the all-important threshold of 100, despite lagging far behind rival Rishi Sunak in public declarations.
Some at Westminster suspected that he chose to step aside rather than face the humiliation of having to admit he could not make the total.
Speaking to LBC, Sir Keir said he was dismayed when he heard of Mr Johnson’s ambitions to return to the frontline.
“When he first said that he was going to run, and everybody was sort of rallying around, I did put my head in my hands and think, so, really, we’re going to go from the prime minister who’s just crashed the economy… back to the guy that only… months ago, most of us were saying was unfit for office,” he said.
“It was never going to work, I don’t think.”
He added: “The less time now spent on this sort of chaotic, ridiculous circus at the top of the Tory party, the better.”
The ex-PM had returned home from a Caribbean holiday as he plotted a bid for No 10 less than two months after being ousted following a series of scandals, but said on Sunday he would not be standing.
He said there was a “very good chance” he could have been back in Downing Street by the end of the week if he had gone for the top job, but admitted he could not unite his warring party.
Taking questions from LBC’s listeners during his regular phone-in session, Sir Keir also confirmed Labour’s senior team will snub the World Cup in Qatar over human rights concerns.
Away from the football pitch, the build-up to the international tournament has seen scrutiny of Qatar’s treatment of local workers, while some are also worried about the welcome LGBT fans will receive during their visit.
Qatar World Cup organisers have stressed all supporters will be welcome in the country, but public displays of affection even between heterosexual couples are not part of the local culture.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir said there is “not a great deal” between Labour and the Tories on immigration when it comes to their preference for a “points-based” system.
But he said Labour would scrap the Government’s controversial Rwanda scheme.
Separately, he insisted his party would not take Britain back into the EU, pledged there would be no new oil and gas licences granted under Labour, and said a “sustainable pay rise” will only be possible with growth in the economy.
Speaking to a supporter of Just Stop Oil, he described protesters for the climate activist group as “arrogant” and “wrong”.
“I particularly think about the images we’ve seen of ambulances coming down the road and not being able to get through because people have glued themselves to the road,” he said.
“My mum was very ill all of her life. She was in those ambulances when she was alive, and there will be other families listening to this who are in the same situation.”
Sir Keir also reflected on a somewhat lively school career, recalling that he received a detention for fighting.
He told LBC his former classmate Lord Cooper was “not completely wrong” to say he was “a bit of a lad”.
“There was bits and bobs going on, yes,” he added.