JOHN MOORE, anybody? Thought not. And what of the reign of the Lion King himself, the man with the mane, Michael Heseltine? Nope, he never gained the highest office in the land either.

The differing careers and characters of Moore, once a favourite under Thatcher, and Heseltine, once a rival to Thatcher, offer lessons as the Tory leadership race opened with the announcement of a rather famous non-runner in Boris Johnson.

Moore was one of a succession of Tories thought to be in line to succeed Margaret Thatcher. He was overtaken in that race by a succession of favoured candidates, including the unprepossessing but successful John Major, showing that leadership elections in the Tory Party can be unpredictable and grisly.

And what of Heseltine? He teaches the biggest lesson. He embodies the most enduring of political truisms: he who wields the dagger never wears the crown. Heseltine’s flounce out of a Cabinet meeting – over a long-forgotten and even at the time arcane dispute over a helicopter company – led ultimately but inexorably to the coup that toppled Thatcher.

He finished second, just behind Thatcher, in the leadership election of 1990 but gained enough votes to force a second ballot. Major won that, ultimately taking the great prize. As one MP later remarked: “At least Heseltine stabbed her in the front.”

But the party remains squeamish about those with the blood of leaders on their hands.

Major was brought down ultimately by a general election defeat but he could and did blame “the bastards”. It is sobering to recall that Major was referring to a trio of Eurosceptics...way back in 1993. This merry band of three – Michael Portillo, Michael Howard, Peter Lilley – had weakened a sitting prime minister over the issue of Europe. None of them succeeded Major, that job went to William Hague, proving yet again that the knife that wounds the premier can inflict damage on those wielding it. Howard did later become Tory leader, a distinctly undistinguished and unsuccessful one.

So Bludgeoning Boris, the man who stuck the knife into his old school mate, was adhering to a traditional political story by failing to take the crown. The man who would be king suddenly found he was only the court jester.

Most political commentators appeared stunned by his announcement yesterday. There was even shock on the faces of such staunch supporters as Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, as Johnson told the world that he had broken it but would not be owning it. He had inflicted the fatal wound on the political career of Cameron and another old school mate, George Osborne, but would not profit by it.

But the Johnson decision also reinforced another political truism. It is this: it is not enough to know the objective, one has to have the strategy to achieve it. Johnson had no post-Brexit plan, no strategy to capitalise on a revolutionary vote. There can be no doubt that he saw the referendum on Europe as his main chance to be prime minister. There is nothing sincere in Johnson save his lust for power.

But that is never enough when one seeks to be the king or queen. Johnson was left as a winner with no prize, a leader with no real support. He had won the playground battle but lost the political war. The same fate may await Michael Gove, one perceived as an ally but always a rival.

He may also pay the price for reckless ambition. The bill is already being settled by the British public who were thought they were voting on Europe but were only providing the stage for a vicious and disastrous internal party dispute.