Monday, 6 August 2012
Could Boris Johnson really become PM?
The previously-absurd idea that Boris Johnson (above), Mayor of London, might become Prime Minister when David Cameron steps down is doing the rounds. Conservative MPs are frustrated that they didn't win the last election; on the day their new Parliamentary boundaries look to have run aground, and their chances of winning the next election outright have therefore fallen to near-zero, they're probably apoplectic. So they're scratching around for someone with broad public appeal; somebody who talks 'human'; a politician who can persuade Labour and other voters to put an 'X' next to his or her name.
Donors, press backers and some backbenchers have now fixed on Boris, a politician who was able to defy the tide and win 'Labour London' back in May.
Historians might well smile wryly. The Conservatives have a history of going for mavericks as their leaders. Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill spring to mind, the one an ex-financial speculator and propagandist from a Jewish family who'd written a string of colourful political books, the other an ex-Liberal apostate who had a history of rebelling against the party whip - over everything from Indian self-government, the Abdication crisis, and then the appeasement of Nazi Germany.
But hang on there. Disraeli had served for decades as his party's leader in the House of Commons. He'd written searing novels about the 'One Nation' problem - the relations between what he called 'the RICH and the POOR'. Churchill had served as a war correspondent in the Sudan, in the army, and been Home Secretary and Chancellor. What's Boris done? Appeared on a news quiz. Say a few mildly self-deprecatory things. Get himself sacked for bad (personal and public) behaviour. Bumble through some self-inflicted crises as Mayor. It's not the Battle of Omdurman, is it?
So it's unlikely.
But it is still possible.
Our world is set up for people like Boris to storm towards the top. Our organised politics has been taken over by a load of grey clones who move through life at a tiny number of universities, via research positions with their parties, to a safe seat in Parliament, and then to their party's leadership. Almost anyone with any grit or difference about them at all - Ann Widdecombe, John Prescott, Louise Mensch, John Cruddas - is made to look like some sort of beguiling philosophical maverick. Rather than just someone who's had a life, and is not prepared to put their opinions in a box. It's a complex world in which name recognition is everything. Being known as 'BoJo' would help anyone. It's a post-modern world of irony and dark humour, in which getting stuck on an overhead zipwire might not make you look stupid, but serve as a knowing wink at the masses.
So: Boris? History says no. But the future might say yes.