Boris: the bookies’ leadership favourite

“Nobody could have been surprised by Boris Johnson’s announcement that he intends to stand for parliament next year,” says Peter Kellner in The Daily Telegraph. “We all knew he would, just as we all know he wants to lead the Conservative Party and become prime minister.” But is he really a vote-winner?

In the obvious sense he is – he has twice been elected as Conservative mayor of a Labour city – but according to YouGov polls he lags behind David Cameron on the two “hard” qualities of being up to the job of governing Britain and being good in a crisis.

An incumbent prime minister is always likely to have an advantage here, but the fact remains that “voters who regard humour and a cavalier style as an asset in an city mayor with few real powers might seek different qualities in a national leader”.

Or they might not, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. The novelist Martin Amis theorises that Britain has dealt with its decline in power by “embracing frivolity”. The Boris phenomenon is “the political expression of this trend”.

The Tories look at his “monstrous popularity” and “see a shortcut to electability”. If they lose the general election, Cameron will probably quit as leader. Even if they don’t, he will probably step down halfway through his term.

Boris is the bookies’ favourite to win any subsequent leadership election. More than his “Debbie Harry hair and his Wodehousian patter, his appeal is said to lie in his authenticity”.

Britons have “come to hate their scripted, interchangeable politicians”. Yet views matter too, and it remains unclear what Boris stands for. “Voting Tory,” he once said, “will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.” The joke was revealing. “Why, in all seriousness, does he think people should vote Tory? Why is he a Tory?”

This Boris business is “absurdly overblown”, says Matthew Parris in The Times. There’s perhaps a 70% chance of Boris finding a safe seat before the next election; a 30% chance David Cameron will lose the election and resign; a 50% chance that Boris could then clear the first hurdle (a ballot of Tory MPs) to reach a two-candidate run-off; and a 70% chance Tory party members would choose him as their leader. That takes his chances of success into single figures: “not negligible, but hardly deserving of the media storm”.

Boris’s position at Westminster is “surprisingly shaky”. There’s “scepticism about his ability to focus on the boring stuff; and jealousy too”. He has a reputation for breaking promises – and has just broken another one by announcing a bid to be MP and mayor at the same time.

Boris will be fun, and he’ll be a “persistent irritant on the question of the Tory leadership, but he probably won’t ever be leader”.

Merryn

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