There have been mutterings of a Boris Johnson leadership bid for the 2015 general election, after a couple of anonymous, machinating Tories tried to mount a stalking horse bid through MP Bob Stewart. Bob swiftly dismissed the attempt as inconceivable, but rumours still buzz around Boris, with speculation over his route to number 10 continuing as a favourite theme among London pundits.
There should be little question over his ambition. Without a doubt, Boris wants to lead the country. Every personal account of The Man Behind The Fringe tells of an extraordinarily driven, fiendishly clever individual, with a zeal for power that surpasses the lesser goods of friendship and loyalty. It just doesn’t fit with his character that he should be content with a mere mayoralty.
Traditionally, the Capital’s mayor stands slightly independent of the ruling party, and although Boris’ policy rarely diverges from the party line, he makes a point of publicly disagreeing with the Prime Minister and the (recently purged) Cabinet in a few stage-managed rifts – the third runway being a good example.
This is a safe distance that he wishes to maintain, not because he is a steadfast bastion of London’s exceptionalism, but because this particular government just can’t win. And Boris is all about winning.
His mayoral term extends to 2016, but before then is the 2015 general election that some have tipped him to lead the Tories into. For both sides this will be an unsavoury election to fight, each party fettered by the bonds of credibility to sell their brand of deeply unpopular austerity to a once cut, twice shy electorate. Boris will steer well clear of the cabinet, because there is no glory to be had there for the next five years. To suggest Boris is intent on a 2015 bid is to fundamentally misunderstand what Boris is in politics for.
He is a politician of prosperity, an expert in converting positivity and optimism in an audience into adulation for his eccentric image. Just look at the “tear-stained climax” of the Olympics. The politics of austerity do not suit him, and he is unlikely to waste a chance at the top job on this thankless decade.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t in pole position. A YouGov poll published last week showed a net respect from the electorate of 25 per cent, making Boris the country’s most respected politician. To give you a sense of the toxicity of the legislature that Boris currently avoids, every single serving parliamentarian scored below zero.
Such stark figures should raise a more interesting question than the precise date of Boris’ inevitable power bid: why do people love him? How is it that a traditionalist right-winger has so easily won the hearts not just of the City but also of the liberal, softcore left? Guardian readers, I’m looking at you.
The answer tells us something contrary to the ‘class warfare’ characterisation of Austerity Britain espoused by the mainstream media. Eton-educated, blue-blooded Boris is about as upper class as you can get without a top hat and monocle. His tightly controlled image of a loveable buffoon thrives on his toffery. When you get down to it, people don’t really care about politicians being out of touch with the hardships of the average voter, or not representing their class. But what they are desperately crying out for is honesty and humility in politicians. The image that Boris has so successfully sold to the country is just that. His constant gaffs are the antithesis of Blair-through-Cameron slickness, thoroughly designed to present a fallible, and thus loveable, face to the electorate.
It is this fallibility that is Boris’ ace in the hole. It is what makes him more human to voters, regardless of his and their backgrounds, and regardless of his actual policy, which is distinctly unremarkable. It is what allows him to shrug off criticism, cynicism, and failure so easily – because his leadership was never based on the premise of infallibility. In terms of a winning strategy (and make no mistake, for Boris his public face is constructed in such cynical terms) Westminster’s men have some lessons to learn from the Teflon Don.