Boris Johnson is flying high. He has announced that he'll stand as an MP in the next election, and the internet has been abuzz with people calling for him to replace David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. I am not one of them. Boris should not be Prime Minister. He is not incompetent. He is not the lovable bumbling twit lovingly portrayed by some in the media. He is not even a ‘nasty party’ Conservative, a lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key hardliner like Chris Grayling or an 'arrogant posh boy' like George Osborne. The reason is not personal, it's political. With astonishing skill, Boris has fooled many people into forgetting or forgiving the fact that he is more right wing than almost all of the current Cabinet. Given the road that the current government's economic policies are sending the nation, the thought of a premiership of someone who would extend them is truly terrifying.
Boris is a free market-fetishist, whose love of neo-liberal economics is non-paralleled in the higher echelons of politics. An analysis of some of Boris's public pronouncements reveal this. For example, a common gripe of this government is that the BBC is ‘anti-business’; see various moans by Osborne and Iain Duncan-Smith. Boris goes further. The BBC should be run by someone who 'is free-market’. Whether right or wrong, there is something practical about being pro-business. Businesses create jobs. Businesses provide useful tax revenues. Yet Boris seems as attached to the idea as he is to its practical benefits. Arguing in the same article that Brown and Blair, widely pilloried for having allowed banks to do whatever they like, ‘over-regulated’ the British economy is further indication. George Osborne endorsed the Vickers Report’s recommendation that the retail and investment arms of banks should be ring-fenced. Boris Disagreed. When asked by Andrew Marr on 'The Andrew Marr Show' in December 2011, ‘what do you need to see tomorrow on the banking regulation?’ he answered ‘Just don’t kill the goose. Don’t kill the goose’.
Boris is a free market-fetishist, whose love of neo-liberal economics is non-paralleled in the higher echelons of politics
I should at this point admit that I am a member of the Labour Party, but the point I make is not a partisan one. Rather, it is a disagreement with the economic principles to which he adheres. The British economy, in particular its banking sector, does not need to be further deregulated. I do not want a government headed by someone who thinks it does. I suspect that many Lib Dem voters, independents, and possibly even a few Conservatives would agree. The scars of the crash of 2008 still run deep.
Don't be scared. You can come out from behind the sofa, because Boris is not going to be Prime Minister. His popularity relies on the 'what if'. All the Sun/YouGov polls tell us that if he magically became Conservative leader today, he would attract more of the vote than Cameron. Let’s deal in the realm of reality. The hoops through which Boris would have to jump to actually become Prime Minister would eliminate many elements of the popularity he now enjoys.
Boris, as Mayor of London, never makes unpopular policies, simply because he rarely makes any policies at all. The Mayor’s office has very little power to do so. He would not enjoy this luxury as Conservative leader or Prime Minister. Secondly, Boris would be unable to insulate himself from the growing trend of Conservative unpopularity as leader in the way that he has as Mayor. As leader, he would be the face of public spending cuts, the vast majority of which are still to come.
As leader, he would be the face of public spending cuts
But should we even worry about that happening? The possibility of Boris being elected as leader of the Conservative Party is, in the near future, remote. The Tory leadership election procedure, with MPs voting exclusively in all but the final round, does not favour Boris, who is much more popular at grassroots level than he is in the Parliamentary party. He is unlikely to cut short his mayoral term, which finishes in 2016. Without the platform and feel good factor generated by an event such as the Olympics, and growing social tension as government cuts begin to bite, he is unlikely to be able to sustain his current wave of popularity in the long run.
We love the idea of Boris Johnson, Prime Minister. Unabashed and Unashamed. Unafraid to speak his mind. A breath of fresh air. But would we love the reality? That blonde mop would be far less lovable when announcing billions of pounds worth of spending cuts. The jokes would be less funny in a speech announcing another credit crunch. Picture it.
Boris has played his part brilliantly so far, but the public scrutiny he now generates may be the undoing of him. We can only hope.
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