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Comment: Riding to the rescue or a Tory car crash?

Boris Johnson captivates voters& but theyre not necessarily Tory voters. Picture: Contributed

Boris Johnson captivates voters& but theyre not necessarily Tory voters. Picture: Contributed

  • by JOHN MCTERNAN
 

THE SILLY season has well and truly started with Boris Johnson’s declaration that he will stand as an MP next May. There has been more swooning in the right-wing press than in a cheap Victorian pot-boiler.

This expression of unbridled self-interest is being written up as a stroke of political genius. Name a problem the Tories have got and BoJo is the answer, apparently. Ukip voters? He’ll win them over. Ill-disciplined back-benchers? He’ll swing them in line. Middle England? He’ll reach the voters no other Tory can reach – though how that is compatible with appealing to Ukip voters is never explained.

But that’s the point. This isn’t a serious political intervention, it’s a circus carnival and as with clowns, conjurors and acrobats belief is willingly suspended.

But let’s actually treat Boris as the politician he is. What is his track record? Decidedly mixed. No-one can remember a single contribution from his last stint in the Commons. Except that is for his habit of voting against the Whip. By accident.

Not realising that he was walking through the voting lobby with a pack of Labour MPs. Someone who is unobservant and doesn’t pay attention to detail is not a shoo-in for Leader of a party, they are a candidate for special measures from the Whip. Well, at least he won the Mayoralty in London. But barely – by about 150,000 votes the first time and 75,000 the second. He scraped across the line only because Ken Livingstone had worked so hard to alienate the white working-class voters in East London and middle-class ethnic voters in North London. It was a hard and dirty job, but Ken managed to get Boris elected. Lynton Crosby should have paid him a retainer – it takes some skill and dedication to throw away a Labour city.

And don’t for a second think that Boris has any sway with Ukip voters. If he was the Tory leader and prime minister going into next May’s election – which even he would admit is unlikely – he would only bring 1 in 5 Ukip voters back to the Conservatives.

Not even enough, in this fantasy, to bring the Tories back to the level they achieved in 2010. And Ukip are already all over him. The line – quickly formulated and distributed by their highly impressive Patrick O’Flynn – is that Boris is a fake. Johnson, they correctly say, wants a reformed EU and then he would campaign to stay in. Ukip voters want a Brexit – a British exit. Nothing less will do.

What then is it all about? Not Boris’ ambition to lead the Tory Party. That has been undisguised for a very long time. There can be few in Britain who slapped their forehead in surprise when he announced his plan to return to the Commons.

The fact no-one wants to mention is that Boris’ return is predicated on a Tory defeat at the next election. For nearly a year some commentators have been hopefully perched – like the Scouse vultures in Jungle Book – waiting for the “inevitable” rise of the Tories in the polls.

It’s clear now that’s not going to happen, don’t take my word – watch Boris’ actions. He can only be the leader if there is a vacancy. There can only be a vacancy if there is a defeat.

There are some incredibly elaborate alternative theories around. All bonkers. On the one hand, some argue that Cameron will win a majority, hold a referendum, win it and then gracefully hand over in 2018. If you believe that, do you mind sending me you bank details, your PIN and your mother’s maiden name.

David Cameron is born to rule, and if he wins a majority next year – the first Tory majority in 23 years – he will enjoy every day of his five years in power. And good on him – winner takes all. On the other, it is said Cameron will resign if he fails to win a majority. Nonsense. If he can stay in power he will – whether an understanding with the DUP or supply and confidence with the Liberal Democrats. You will have to prize the code for the No10 flat from his cold, dead hands.

No, Cameron goes when the Tories lose power. A triumphant Dave – in whatever form – kicks the leadership election beyond 2020, and then Sajid David will have shown us his paces. How much better a back story has the bus-conductor’s son got than the Old Etonian.

Not to mention having made real money in the private sector. Boris flying in is the Tory equivalent of the ravens leaving the Tower of London.

Given that Boris can only win the leadership after a defeat, does he offer the Tories any hope? He scores high on geniality. Floating voters like him in huge numbers. So do Labour voters – but they do not vote for him; as I mentioned before, they voted against Labour or, more precisely against Ken.

Is Boris, though, a populist who is not merely an insurgent like Nigel Farage but a leader like Alex Salmond? The similarities there are eerie.

Both initially elected in a reaction to an unpopular third-term Labour government. Both able to challenge the notion that all politicians are the same. Both shape-shifters – Salmond on the left for some, on the right for others; Boris both a bridge to Middle England and to Ukip.

Well now we know where that ride ends up. In a car crash. In a small pool – the Greater London Assembly or the Scottish Parliament – scrutiny can be evaded and avoided.

The STV debate with Alistair Darling showed what Alex Salmond is like under pressure – unable to rise to the event, or to the expectations of voters.

At some point there have to be answers if you want to run your own country – whether it is an independent Scotland or the UK.

Boris, like Salmond, thrives through a mixture of clarity, obfuscation and bluster.

That does not last a minute when you find yourself interviewed for the top job.

 

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