Politics

Enter Boris Johnson, eyes on the prize

7 May 2016

9:00 AM

7 May 2016

9:00 AM

After an eight-year detour into municipal government, Boris Johnson has now returned to national politics. The former mayor of London will mark this moment by going on the stump for the Leave campaign. He has some catching up to do: while never far from the public eye, he was absent from the Commons for seven years. Even when back in Parliament after the general election, Boris felt he could not take the cabinet job that was offered to him.

But his time at City Hall hasn’t dented his ambitions; quite the opposite. He is the bookies’ favourite to be the next Prime Minister. Indeed, he returns to the national scene in a far stronger position. In the summer of 2007 when he announced his intention to run for mayor, his political career had stalled. He was Tory spokesman for higher education but not a full shadow cabinet member. Although he had backed David Cameron for the leadership, it was clear Cameron was never going to give him a big job. What’s more, his Commons performances had been disappointing. A style of speaking that worked so brilliantly outside the chamber didn’t work inside. Mr Cameron would privately remark that his fellow Old Etonian was ‘stuck in a buffoonish rut’, unable to make the transition from entertainer to politician.

Eight years of running London, after two Tory victories in a Labour city, has changed all that. Boris is now a serious contender for the leadership in a way he simply wasn’t in 2007, and wouldn’t have been had he stayed in the Commons. He could be the first Prime Minister since the Duke of Wellington to enter No. 10 because of what he did outside Parliament. Rather than make it to the front bench then climb the greasy pole, he has blazed a new career trail for the ambitious.

One can argue that he is sui generis. Yet, devolution should produce more Borises. It should be entirely possible for a politician to make his or her name running a city and then arrive at Westminster as a plausible potential Prime Minister. The new mayor of Greater Manchester will be in charge of a £7 billion budget, larger than that of several government departments.


If Boris is not simply a one-off, but the first of a succession of former mayors to enter Parliament with high ambitions, it could improve the quality of governance in Britain. One of the flaws of our system is that the executive is led by members of the legislature — so we often end up with new ministers who haven’t run anything more taxing than a tombola stall. Mayors, by contrast, will come to Parliament already blooded in the arts of winning elections, fighting bureaucracy and delivering public services.

But devolution is a mixed blessing. When New Labour created the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly, the expectation was that ambitious young bucks would cut their teeth there then graduate to Westminster. Instead, the assemblies ended up stuffed with those who aren’t, or weren’t, good enough for Westminster. Remarkably, even the Scottish National Party seems to have sent its best talent to London. Joanna Cherry, the highly impressive QC who speaks for the SNP on justice and home affairs at Westminster, would surely be a more effective Scottish justice minister than the incumbent, Michael Matheson, who was a community occupational therapist before he went to Holyrood.

Some Tories hope that their leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, can be persuaded to make the journey south. If elected as an MP, they argue, she would immediately be a leadership contender because her ‘proper, old-fashioned blue-collar Toryism’ is what the party needs. They believe she is the party’s most naturally talented politician.

Davidson is fond of saying she has no Westminster ambitions. But she certainly has options. She grew up in the Borders, one of few parts of Scotland where Tories stand a chance of being elected to Westminster. Whether her style of politics would work there is another matter. When Boris Johnson was on TV explaining his decision to back Britain leaving the EU, Davidson sarcastically tweeted: ‘Is it just me or is Boris floundering here? Not sure the bumble-bluster, kitten smirk, tangent-bombast routine is cutting through.’ One of her allies admits: ‘She is a bit too free-and-easy about making it known what she thinks of people. If she wants to come down here, she is going to have to be a bit more careful about that.’

The viciousness of Davidson’s comments indicate a problem for Boris. ‘He has people who will do absolutely anything to stop him,’ one cabinet minister tells me. Some loathed him even before he came out for Brexit; others were enraged by that decision. And his enemies are delighted that he has not had the easiest of starts to his referendum campaign. Michael Gove is now the hero of the Brexit-backing grassroots, they declare. And a survey of party members by the Conservative Home website showed Gove top, and Boris in fourth place.

But Boris does tend to start slowly on -campaigns; it takes time before he gets into his stride. He is about to embark on six weeks of intensive Brexit stumping and come polling day on 23 June he should be in fine voice. Downing Street’s reluctance to put forward anyone in government to take him on in the TV debates suggests they have more respect for Boris and his argument than they care to admit.

James Forsyth, Isabel Hardman and Fraser Nelson will be discussing the EU referendum at a subscriber-only event in the ICA, London, on 20 June. Tickets are available at spectator.co.uk/brexit

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Show comments
  • balls

    Boris is a divisive figure, marmite-like. The difference is, he chose to run for the UK’s equivalent of the Republican/establishment party.

    • Tamerlane

      He’s not remotely divisive, that’s his great pull, for all his huffing and puffing and floppy hair people are naturally drawn to him and find him very likeable. Clubbing together with a few of your moronic friends and chasing him around with cretinous placards makes you divisive not him.

      Your name suits your opinions.

  • john

    What is it about us Brits that we constantly need to genuflect in front of upper class twits?
    When will 63 million regular citizens get the guts to send the likes of Boris back to the obscurity they fully merit?

    • 100

      A good start would be to get rid of the anachronistic Monarchy and the House of Turds.

      • john

        My thought exactly!
        It is bizarre that the country that invented democracy can’t finish the job.

        • amicus

          You mean Greece?

          • john

            No. Greece generated ideas but was never a democracy. England was the first country to work century by century toward democracy for all starting under the Saxon kings.

      • Bob3

        Except things are no different in any other Western country that has done that.
        In the EU we have done away with our power to get rid of anything.

        • 100

          There is a problem though with a nation that is supposed to demonstrate democratic maturity and be venerated for such, when it still has these outdated institutions at the heart of its political structure.

          Its equivalent to a 30 year old man still living with his mum , never going to be taken seriously and looks to all outsiders as weak, pathetic and daft.

          • Bob3

            Well I think it shows more maturity and understanding if people can live with the quirky system we have now to be fair and not have change for change sake because it looks better on paper.

          • john

            ” quirky system”?
            You mean idiotic, antiquated and undemocratic? If you’re at the top end, it’s good to be quirky but not so good for everyone else!

        • Mary Ann

          We haven’t done away with our power, it is the EU parliament that makes the laws and we get to choose some of them every five years, of course those who choose to vote ukip choose a party that voted against Britain’s interest when the EU were voting about measures to protect the Steel Industry, according to their spokesman, “on principle.”

          • Bob3

            The EU Parliament doesn’t make the laws, they are an amending chamber, in any case the few MEP’s we send cannot influence diddly squat.

          • Leon Wolfeson

            …That British MEP’s chose not to sit on the major bloc on the right – is their choice. Don’t whine now.

          • Landphil

            I live in the village of Diddly Squat and I’m rather glad those useless MEPs can’t influence me.

          • goodsoldier

            Lying Mary Ann–all for the cause.

      • Ed  

        Good God, man. President Gordon Brown isn’t the answer!

      • Leon Wolfeson

        So get rid of a distraction from important reform and the only check and balance we have…

        How about we move to AMS/MMP for Westminster elections?

      • Bonkim

        Britain will then collapse. The Queen and the House of Lords is what makes Britain Britain – if lost will be a non-descript small country of no significance to the world.

        • 100

          Piffle

    • Mary Ann

      When they start thinking about themselves and start thinking about others.

    • Bonkim

      Britain is known by its upper class language and values – the rest are not British enough.

    • Tamerlane

      Wow, how many chips are on your shoulder?

      • john

        Please respond on the point I raise.

        • Tamerlane

          I think James Blunt wrote an open letter to Chris Bryant that pretty much sums you up. Google it, read it and there’s your response.

          • john

            What a nutty reference!

          • Tamerlane

            That’s up to you. I read your comment and thought of that letter. You pick the chips off your shoulder, rest of us will get on with life.

          • john

            Tammers: If you don’t think Britain is a class dominated country – you aren’t paying attention. You think Dave and Bozza weren’t a product of an elitist system? The Monarchy and the House of Lords are both totally class based and many professions are elite dominated. Make Britain a real democracy and we’d see a very different ruling profile.

          • Tamerlane

            You would see exactly the same ruling profile emerge in no time at all, you would see a dynasty of Clintons and Bushes and Kenedys emerge to take the place of the current crop… and frankly in the Commons you already have Stephen Kinnock and Hilary Benn to prove my point. People are people. Making Britain a ‘real democracy’ whatever that is won’t make the slightest difference. I’m happy to judge Boris J on his merits, he’s sharp as a knife, bright as a button, brimming with charisma, not afraid either to speak his mind, certainly not afraid of himself and sure he can be a plummy twit but I’ll raise his plummy twit and see you Corbyn’s morose resentful anger. I know which one I’d rather have a pint with.

          • john

            Your US parallels are nonsense. Neither Bushes nor (even more) Clintons are remotely dynastic in the British sense. They are nouveau riches not aristos!
            A democratic Britain would not constantly choose the same narrow group of leaders. Thank God for Corbyn, and Sadiq – a hint of breaking the mould!

          • Tamerlane

            Nonsense. You abolish one elite another swiftly takes its place. Every single time. You just don’t like upper class people. Your chips, your problem.

          • john

            The Bushes got rich in the oil boom a couple generations ago. Bill Clinton comes from a very poor Arkansas background and has no family history of wealth. Of the current Presidential candidates, Hilary is 1 generation wealthy, Sanders is from a poor background and even Trump is only a generation away from a middle class income level.
            US elites are largely self made – Bloomberg, Apple, Microsoft etc

          • Tamerlane

            You’re nit picking.. and avoiding the Kennedy example I notice. You abolish one elite, another takes it place. Learn to work the system, you’ll never change human nature, it’s why Lefties are always doomed to be disappointed and a disappointment – you think you can.

          • john

            Didn’t go that far back. Kennedys were only rich (through crookery) since the 1930s. Can”t think of any other dynastic President in recent times. Nixon? Reagan? Carter?

          • Tamerlane

            Well I can’t think of any dynastic Prime Minister. So there you go we live in a democracy after all. Looks like it’s stalemate.

          • john

            Err there’s been lots of ’em. Cameron is quasi aristo, MacMillan, Lord Home (Hume) and the daddy of them all – Winnie. In the 19th century lots – Duke of Wellington, Lord Liverpool etc.

          • Tamerlane

            None of them inheriting office from the family. On the right you have an obsession with something called the ‘liberal elite’ on the left an obsession with the ‘aristocratic elite’. You can’t all be right and you’re not all right because mostly it’s in your minds and simply a manifestation of your various prejudices. Take it easy.

    • Marvin

      Add in the Moslem race and you will find the 63million is in fact 75million.

    • JJD

      Never see Monty Python? I think the Brits are quite good at undercutting upper-class twits, and sticking an impertinent finger into the eye of hereditary privilege. Which means we’re relatively relaxed about it, which means we never had a civil war over it, unlike the French.

  • Polly Radical

    There’s nothing like a photo of three Etonian Gramsci-Marxists living off their parents’ money to motivate an electorate to vote Conservative.

    • Hototrot

      Do you mean Back, Zac & Crack?

      • Bob3

        What happened to Dave’s tie?

    • Leon Wolfeson

      So a photo you imagine captions for to have to justify your actions even to yourself? Heh.

  • 100

    http://media.breitbart.com/media/2016/05/GettyImages-492134398-420×315.png

    Kahn.. ” your treading on my foot”
    Zac “Im trying to scrape you off mine you little sh@t”

  • Sunset66

    It shows you what politics has come to when Boris is considered pm material
    A quick scan of his past record should rule him out for numerous reasons.

    It’s a role he plays and we know it’s not the real Boris . He’s always only been interested in himself.
    Is there anyone who has worked with him had a good word to say about him?
    He’s crumpled under pressure and like an irritating child he must be the centre of attraction

    But hey he’s good for a laugh. Well not really

    • Mary Ann

      Good for a laugh at a party but not leading Britain on the world’s stage.

  • AdrianM

    He’s what Britain needs right now!

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Really, we need more vanity bridges and transport fair hikes?

      • 100

        We don’t need a vanity HS2 either for the benefit of shaving 20 mins off a journey to get you to a destination more than 20 mins away from the desired original destination for an extortionate price and an extortionate cost.

        • Leon Wolfeson

          Yea, I don’t support HS2 either.

          Let’s electrify the rest of the train network instead.

  • trobrianders

    Keep chattering about the things that are sooooo important to you pundits.

  • Mary Ann

    If Brexit wins and Boris becomes PM we have to assume that Britain will not be talking trade deals with the US until after Obama steps down, Boris is a clutz. Not the man Britain needs to represent us in the world, especially without our friends in the EU.

    • jeffersonian

      With friends like the EU who needs enemies?

    • davidshort10

      Only a clutz would talk about Boris becoming PM before Obama steps down. Under no circumstances will BoJo be PM before Obama’s second term of office ends. If he becomes PM and Trump becomes President, it will be a love match not seen since Thatcher and Reagan.

    • Bonkim

      Britain has no friends in the EU.

    • davidofkent

      ‘Boris is a clutz’??

      Well he speaks very highly of you!

    • Adam

      Britain has never had a trade deal with the US, either before it joined the EU or after it joined, and I doubt we’d ever need one.

  • Leon Wolfeson

    Given how he raised transport prices…and then there’s his vanity bridge…

    …Well, he certainly wouldn’t do well in the London vote.

  • Jojje 3000

    Loosing in the referendum will turn Boris a perpetual backbencher.

    • davidofkent

      ‘losing’

    • Malcolm Stevas

      Some MPs as able as Boris, or more so, were or became backbenchers – Powell and Redwood come to mind.

  • Bonkim

    Will bring some colour to British politics if he becomes PM.

  • davidofkent

    Donald Trump has shown that the message can often get through despite a clumsy delivery. Boris is no Pericles, but he has an endearing quality that attracts a lot of people. As always, the devil is in the detail, as we have found with David Cameron, to our cost.

  • Central power

    “He would have wanted the European organisation to be strongly and closely allied to America, with Britain actively helping to cement the relationship.
    He would have seen the importance of that united Europe as a bulwark against an assertive Russia and other potential external threats”
    No I am not quoting Cameron. I am quoting our very Brexiter Boris Johnson from his book The Churchill Factor (2014, page 309).
    Shall I say more?

  • Polly Radical

    Cameron sent a clown to fight a snake.

  • Pretty_Polly

    This is a brilliant essay about Mohammed and Fritz’s differing ideas about their retirement plans, each thinking the other will pay..

    ‘The Death of Europe’..

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/260511/death-europe-daniel-greenfield

    Please note the final paragraph of the link which reads..

    ‘Europe is drinking rat poison to cure a cold. Instead of changing its values, it’s trying to maintain them by killing itself. The Mohammed retirement plan won’t save European socialism. It will bury it’.

  • Freddythreepwood

    ‘One can argue that he is sui generis.’

    Don’t you mean Sue Generis? An American actress if I recall.

    • Malcolm Stevas

      I thought she was Sue Generous, 1950s, big, er, front bits – ?

  • Freddythreepwood

    The Tories have made a habit of underestimating Boris. Long may it continue.

  • ROUCynic

    Cameron is incompetent, dishonest and unlikeable. Boris is incompetent, dishonest and likeable.
    So he’s a better bet!

  • Chingford Man

    Nothing much wrong with Boris’s speech today. Ruth Davidson, the self-described “John Major Tory”, will not like it.

  • John Andrews

    Come on Boris – give it your best shot. I want to see you on telly, night after night, knocking the stuffing out of stick-in-the-mud Bremainers.

  • MrBishi

    I watched Boris talk about the failings of the EU but there was nothing about the benefits – or otherwise – of Brexit.
    I’ve said this before, but the weakness for Brexit is that the article 50 negotiations will be carried out by UK and EU civil servants. The EU civil servants are required by EU law to stick within the treaty obligations and they include the four freedoms of movement of goods, services, capital and people. There is, therefore, no conceivable way that the UK can get access to the single market without signing up to everything we are already signed up to.
    There is also the threat that any article 50 agreement which appears to breach the treaties will be referred to the ECJ where any ruling will be within EU law, because that’s what the ECJ does.
    Add to this fact, the statement by the Prof Patrick Minford – the lead economist of the “Brexit 8” – that WTO tariffs (the default position if article 50 negotiations with the EU fail) will inevitably “lead to the collapse of UK manufacturing” and bearing in mind that our service sector will not gain access to the EU market and the Brexit price looks high. The destruction of the UK economy in return for a tiny bit more sovereignty.
    Finally, much is made (Michael Gove argued it only yesterday) of the fact that the German motor manufacturers will not allow (bear in mind that they will not have any say) the UK market to be damaged. IMHO large manufacturers cannot wait to destroy their competition and so secure a monopoly.

    • antoncheckout

      the statement by the Prof Patrick Minford – the lead economist of the “Brexit 8” – that WTO tariffs (the default position if article 50 negotiations with the EU fail) will inevitably “lead to the collapse of UK manufacturing”

      No, he didn’t say that. And you can’t find a quotation or citation from it in Minford’s work. It’s a distortion peddled by the Remainian web sites, (and I see you and others repeat it frequently on newspaper blogs). What Minford actually said was:

      “If we decided to leave, the UK would simply revert back to paying world prices for exports and imports. Prices of goods would fall by up to eight per cent. The cost of a BMW or the price tag of an imported fridge would suddenly drop and our resources would shift from manufacturing to services — raising living standards for all of us.
      More importantly, our economy would be boosted by four per cent.
      This country is no longer one that specialises in farming or building. We now trade in skills more than we do in things.We have excellent designers, highly skilled intellectuals and we specialise in ideas that are then sent to South America or parts of Asia to be made.
      Over time, if we left the EU, it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech. But this shouldn’t scare us.”

      • MrBishi

        I watched Prof Minford make that statement of TV, “Politics Today” and he was being interviewed by Brillo.
        “In an article for The Sun recently, Prof Minford said that outside the EU “it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and high-tech. But this shouldn’t scare us”.
        https://next.ft.com/content/1745f3c2-0d16-11e6-b41f-0beb7e589515
        A simple apology will do.

  • Ipsmick

    Johnson was a rubbish mayor, and has precisely no political achievements to his name. Yet we have sunk so far that we present him as a credible politician.

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