Monday, 13 August 2012

Prime Minister Johnson?

Even before the closing ceremony had finished, there had been much talk of what shape or form the  Olympic legacy may take.  There is, without question, a renewed sense of national self-confidence and a groundswell of united pride, the like of which hasn't been seen since the Thatcher government successfully liberated the Falkland Islands in 1982.   The general election of 1983 returned the Conservatives to power so ardently that a shakey Mrs Thatcher became the Iron Lady and received a mandate for change which eventually led to the socio-economic reforms which inexorably altered the nature of the UK's economy for good. Together with Charles and Diana's Royal wedding of the previous year, Thatcher's government presided over a period of renewed national fervor and converted this into stunning electoral gains.

Cameron's leadership thus far, like Thatcher's first two years, has been marked by critical voices from within his own party.  Uncertainty over his particularly cuddly brand of Conservatism has actually grown rather than died away since the 2010 General Election.  His marriage to Clegg's Liberal Democrats was a necessary union which brought his party to power but has since served to further accentuated his liberal leanings and consequently only brought further discord within the party.  Although William and Kate's marriage and the Queen's Jubilee combine to become roughly comparable in scale to the royal wedding of 1981, it has been the Olympics rather than the intervention in Libya which has been Cameron's latter day Falklands in terms of effect on the public mood.  However, Cameron's reticence to attend events down at Eton Dorny for fear of being seen near his own school, coupled with his increasingly overshadowed attendances at other events have left the Prime Minister very much a mere passenger on board the Boris train.  While Thatcher's great rival Michael Hesseltine was thrust into the background during the Falklands, Cameron's Hesseltine, Boris Johnson, has been brought to the fore.  The blonde bombshell's already high profile has gone from strength to strength during the games.  His unscripted 'Boris moments' such as the delicious moment when he was left dangling from a zip wire in the Olympic park stand anathema to Cameron's over-polished stage-managed appearances which were splashed around anywhere near a successful British athlete.

For many, despite their shared education and socio-economic backgrounds, Boris is the more approachable figure.  His ascerbic wit, shoddy dress sense and ridiculous hair provide the kind of brand identity that Cameron could only dream of.  His gaffe-prone public appearances conspire to inspire his audiences rather than concern them.  But there's more to Boris Johnson than just his humorous appeal; it's not just his public image that people love, rather that he is a successful leader:  he has delivered.  In the public's eye he is unquestionably the Commander-in-chief of London and the London Olympics and his performance in this regard has been exemplary.  When the dust settles, Johnson's electoral 'bounce' may be so strong that not even he will be able to stop it.  He is to the London Olympics as Thatcher was to the Falklands and Cameron hasn't so much as had a look-in.

It is difficult to see what could possibly propel Cameron to such heights in the electorate's regard.  As discord over the EU, the financial crisis, swinging cuts and Cameron's inability to understand that liberals will never vote for him (and Conservatives might stop doing so) continues to grow  then the party may well look for new leadership.  Johnson's unashamed Etonianism will appeal to the small 'c' conservative core of the Party in addition to the rest of the country's new found love of the man.  In answer to the articles chief question, it may just be that whether Mr Johnson wants it or not, his inexorable rise might take him to the very top and inherit the Conservative Party leadership.  He has become Cameron's Hesseltine, the de-facto stalking horse for any leadership contest of the future. That said, he would first need to be an MP or a member of the 'other place' in order to become PM and for that, he would need a constituency that would vote for him as well as a sitting MP prepared to stand aside and force a bi-election.
Thus, Boris for PM? Maybe, one day, but not yet.  First, Cameron would need to be pushed out and a constituency seat must become available.