I get it. Boris Johnson is funny. He’s hilarious. I love watching him on TV. But I think he’d make a terrible Prime Minister.
Day by day the Boris Johnson fetish among Conservatives and sections of the media that love a good hype grows to ridiculous proportions.
Now the Olympics is over can we at least let’s judge him on his record when we consider him as a potential Prime Minister.
Stephen Pollard writes on the Guardian website about why Johnson is the prince across water for Conservatives and it’s fine for the most part.
But his overview of Boris’ ‘stewardship’ of London is utterly absurd.
Boris brings communities together.
Perhaps, and it’s good that he marched at Gay Pride given his record on grossly homophobic comments in the past. But Pollard’s example is that after the London Riots, ‘the left’ criticised him for not coming back from his holiday soon enough while
‘the rest of us remember him joining in with fellow Londoners of all stripes sweeping up the mess. And then we voted for him.’
Ah, ‘the left’, of course, with an obligatory link to a Guardian story. Except a quick online search reveals that the socialist bastion of the Daily Mail criticised him for not coming back soon enough.
As for the idea that all anyone thought outside of the silly left was how lovely he was for helping out, the Daily Mail again reminds us that actually when he turned up he was heckled by people angry with him.
Whether or not that view was held over the longer term it’s nonsense to suggest it was a leftish obsession with criticising him when even the Daily Mail was gunning for him.
Regardless, that is, literally, the extent of Boris’ record on which we should judge that he is worthy of becoming Prime Minister according to Pollard.
Because he came home late from his holiday during the London Riots and turned up to a community clean-up with a broom and was heckled.
This, from four years of being one of the most powerful politicians in the country.
Of course, the real reason right-wingers like the idea of Boris as Prime Minister is not because of his record as Mayor of London, which even his admirers often admit is patchy.
The real reason right-wingers are going on about Boris as PM is because they know he’s ‘one of them’. As part of his modernisation project (which failed) Cameron has had to portray himself as a modern, centrist, Tory.
He failed to the extent that he didn’t win the last election, but succeeded enough to form a Coalition and confuse his own party about whether he really meant it or not.
Boris Johnson on the other hand, who isn’t held back by responsibility and power in the same way that Cameron is, is free to become a right-wing lodestar with which the right can pile all their hopes and dreams without ever having to witness the harsh realities that come with proper power (The Mayor of London is powerful, but the position lacks of a lot of tax raising powers makes it limited at the same time).
By promoting brand Boris, they can pressurise Cameron into tacking right to fend off the threat, creating a win-win situation whereby either Cameron becomes more right-wing or Boris might, against all the odds, become party leader and possibly Prime Minister.
None of this is to underestimate Boris. As I said at the start, I actually like him as a celebrity personality, despite alleged personal behaviour that I would find intolerable in someone I knew in ‘real life’.
And the ability to have 60,000 people chanting your name is pretty much unique among the crop of politicians we currently have in Westminster and has to be seen to be believed.
But isn’t that a symptom of his celebrity and not his political achievements? If Ken Livingstone had to make the same speech at the height of his own popularity would the crowd have been any less obliging? I can well imagine them chanting ‘Ken’ repeatedly while he went on about how amazing London is.
While you can’t underestimate the popularity of a man who has 60,000 chanting his name, with a huge rump of the Tory party looking eagerly to him as a saviour for Thatcherite politics, surely there comes a point where if we’re going to seriously consider Boris as a potential Prime Minister we have to start treating him as one?
There is always the potential for a George W Bush type character to come along, derided by the press as too much of a buffoon, but who connects with the public and, like Johnson has now done twice (as much to the credit of the election machine the Tories built for him, at least initially, than to Johnson himself), wins elections on the back of it regardless of his record.
But the difference is that Bush projected an image of himself that was still Presidential in the eyes of the US. Could Boris do the same? Would Bush go on a zip wire and get stuck? Is Boris’ charm enough to be seen as Prime Ministerial by the public?
Personally, I don’t think it is, but I accept that he is currently in possession of a pretty heady and powerful mix that makes him by far and away the most popular politician in the country (although we should note a lot more Tory supporters still want Cameron to lead them into the next election than Johnson).
If we are to take the proposition seriously then, can we at least stop treating it all like a giant jape and properly assess his record in politics? Not least because it’s actually quite poor.
We’ve seen from Mitt Romney this week what happens when a statesman goes abroad and commits a series of gaffes. The country’s standing suffers and people don’t view it as a joke when a fellow countryman embarrasses your country in that way.
NB A look at Boris’ actual record on the Olympics shows how much he’s failed to deliver, other than amusing appearances and rousing anti-Mitt Romney speeches.