Published on August 19th, 2014 |
by Chris Cooper-Davies
The Sordid Ambition of Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson is returning to parliament. He has chosen- we suspect- Uxbridge as his seat. Recent polls suggest the Conservative vote in the constituency would increase drastically with Johnson standing. If he can convince the Conservative Constituency Association for the area, therefore, that he is the right man to look out, not only for his own interests at Westminster, but also Uxbrige’s, his chances of securing the candidacy and then the seat in 2015 look promising.
Even before the official announcement of his candidacy, rumours of Johnson’s leadership ambition have swamped the press. All are eager to observe the inevitably gruesome Bullingdon Club power struggle at the top of the Conservative Party if Uxbrige pick Johnson, with David Cameron, George Osborne or Theresa May on one side and Johnson on the other, supported by vast swathes of the British public, a handful of London Tory MP’s and an unknown contingency of Tory back benches.
The fight will definitely be bloody and could be played out in various ways depending on how the coming election unfolds. Each potential scenario has its pros and cons for Boris; whether any are really beneficial to the party in general is open to debate.
Scenario one: The Tories win an overall majority in the coming election. At the moment this is unlikely with Labour ahead in the polls. But some spectators, such as Nadine Dories, think Johnson’s candidacy in the election might improve Tory prospects. Fear of UKIP could also forestall this eventuality as Labour or Liberal voters in constituencies where the Conservatives have small majorities might turn blue to stop the advance of Nigel Farage.
Assuming the Tories win and Cameron stays as PM then, how would Johnson go about making his leadership bid. MP’s have assured us he is not in it for the long game and has absolutely no ambition to serve under Cameron. Whether Cameron would give him a semi-senior ministerial role is unclear and also irrelevant. What’s important is we won’t see Boris as Chancellor or Foreign Sec with the present leadership still in place.
Nadine Dories thinks he’ll use the EU referendum campaign to his advantage, taking up the flag for the ‘Out’ campaign against Cameron, who wants in. If Cameron wins, Boris will have to bow out and wait for another opportunity. If Cameron loses and Boris wins, Cameron will be under pressure to resign and Boris will be in prime position to usurp him. Osborne and May will no doubt stand in his way but if Boris can galvanise enough support from Tory MPs- which shouldn’t be too much of a problem with the euro-sceptics in the party wooed- he shouldn’t find it too hard to win the premiership. Afterall, he is the nation’s floppy haired Conservative sweetheart.
There is, of course, a fatal flaw for Boris with this scenario. It is reliant on the nation voting us out of Europe and, therefore, on the failure of Cameron to negotiate any substantial EU reform. Neither of these eventualities are set in stone so Boris can’t be over confident about his prospects of success if the Tory’s win an overall majority in 2015.
Scenario two: The Tories don’t win an overall majority and again enter into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This scenario is only possible if the Liberal vote is not entirely decimated.
Again, Boris would have to rely on the support of Euro-sceptics and right wingers in the Conservative Party who abhor Clegg’s unwavering pro-EU stance and meddling in Tory policy creation. The Mail on Sunday have reported that, if another coalition is formed, dozens of Tory MP’s will be prepared to vote against the first Queens Speech of the new parliament in a bid to replace Cameron with Johnson. If this happens and Johnson takes over, he will essentially have one mandate: to break up the coalition. A minority Conservative government would consequently rise from the ashes, which is never a good thing and would unlikely last long. For even Boris, with his incredible popularity among the electorate, would struggle to carry such a weak government- built on the back of the Tory right- for a full four year term.
Scenario three: The Tories lose the general election and we are left with either a Labour government or a Lib-Lab coalition. At the moment, with Labour ahead in the polls, this is a real possibility, although Ed Milliband’s inability to endear himself to the electorate means it is in no way inevitable. As has always been the case in recent decades, election defeat for a PM results in a leadership contest. Osborne, May and Johnson will be the main contenders. Osborne and May, however, will be tarnished by the election defeat because of their leading roles in the coalition government. Johnson, again with the support of the Euro-sceptics- but also London Tory MPs and any wanting a fresh start and a break from coalition politics- will be the natural winner. Seeing as Labour’s majority- if one exists- will no doubt be small, Boris’s chances of winning in 2019, with a re-nourished and reformed party, will be good. This, arguably, is Johnson’s dream scenario.
Although he wouldn’t dream of admitting it, Johnson will run in Uxbrige with the hope that his party loses the general election, for it is that eventuality which gives him the best chance of snatching the Tory throne. Whether that means he will actively attempt to sabotage the Conservative election campaign by undermining the current government is unclear but unlikely. It will be surprising, however, if we don’t see a few subtle yet carefully placed controversial Boris remarks in the coming months intended to do just that.
What is certainly true, is that Cameron’s comment that he is ‘delighted’ to have Boris returning to the fray is a lie. For the current leadership, the prospect of the mayor’s return is daunting to say the least. Perhaps they will be compelled to pull some strings with the constituency association in Uxbridge and terminate Johnson’s candidacy before it is even announced. You scoff, I hear, ‘that kind of under hand corruption is the reside of TV series and novels’, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility; one Tory MP, according to the Telegraph, has already likened the battle between Johnson and Osborne for the party leadership with the sordid political drama ‘House of Cards’.
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