By electing Boris, we could end up burying him

3:43 pm - April 30th 2008

by Sunder Katwala    

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There are many very good reasons not to vote for Boris Johnson, but most likely we will wake up on Friday to that result.

The election now comes down to a question of turnout and of appealing to second preferences, particularly of Liberal Democrat voters. The key unknown may be what impact last minute doubts about Johnson have. (Two-thirds of the Politics Home ‘insider panel’ think this will make a difference, but will it be enough?)

As I wrote in a Comment is Free piece on how we have come this close to the prospect of Mayor Boris, the Conservative Party has successfully Boris-proofed Lynton Crosby’s campaign from the candidate, and is now worrying about how to Boris-proof David Cameron’s ambitions to be Prime Minister from the possible fallout of Johnson’s Mayoralty.

What they have left out is who, if anybody, will be Boris-proofing London from its new Mayor. Ironically, what we don’t know after the most personality-based election campaign Britain has seen, is who will run London if Johnson is elected.

Simon Heffer makes that point as he launches a scathing attack in the Telegraph, Johnson’s former paper, today.

There were stooges when Mr Johnson was en route to be president of the Oxford Union. He has had stooges all through journalism, who did significant parts of his various jobs for him, usually with little thanks or reward. And now there are stooges in politics.

If Mr Johnson became Mayor tomorrow, he would be the front man for nameless others who would run London. That may well be better than more of Mr Livingstone. It would not be what people think they are voting for.

What is striking is just how often similar points are made by those who are, unlike Heffer, advocating a vote for Boris Johnson tomorrow.

The Sunday Times backed Boris Johnson on Sunday in the hope that “the Conservatives, if they are ready for government, will ensure that Mayor Johnson is bolstered with enough back-up to make it work”.

I have never read a more unusual endorsement for an election candidate in a newspaper than that proferred by The Times on Saturday. Having noted that “Newspapers have fretted about endorsing him precisely because journalists know Mr Johnson, a fellow journalist, so well and they know he has a history of letting people down”, the paper found “grounds for suspecting that the gamble is not as wild a wager as it might appear”. Its case for taking the risk to find out whether David Cameron is a charlatan too:

“The responsibility of office will discipline Mr Johnson … If [it]] does not, then London and the country will have learnt something of immense value. Mr Johnson is not the only Old Etonian with a sense of entitlement and a pretty modest understanding of truly ordinary people who intends to put himself up before the electors at some moment.”

There is another casualty of this slick campaign to elect the Tory candidate: the real Boris Johnson.

He has been told he can not be himself for the duration of the campaign. As Brian Cathcart reported in the New Statesman on the successful ‘Faking It‘ campaign, the joke among Johnson’s own campaign team “is that every time Johnson appears in public his chief minder, Lynton Crosby, keeps him squarely in the cross hairs of a sniper rifle, ready to bring him down the second his mouth runs away with him”

But what if it works, as looks increasingly plausible?

Well, on Friday, Boris will be told he can not be himself for the next two years, so as not to imperil Dave’s Downing Street bid.

The psychological pressure may be rather great. But even two years would not be the end of the sentence. Even after that, there will be new reasons why Mayor Johnson can not go back to being Boris. His second term bid. Perhaps even, perish the thought, that a similar strategy could make Britain’s highest profile Tory the party leader, even Prime Minister – the charming face and public champion of somebody else’s hidden agenda.

Perhaps he would walk away at some point. Except that, as Heffer notes, Johnson combines a ruthless ambition with a sense of entitlement which refuses to accept that doing the job properly is the best way to serve it.

So tomorrow would be the end of Boris Johnson – unless Londoners think again, elect a real Mayor, and in doing so liberate the real Boris Johnson to pursue again his great talents for light entertainment and journalism.

Perhaps our concern and sympathy should lie elsewhere.

But what profiteth a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Debates ,Labour party ,Mayor election ,Westminster

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Reader comments

Strangely enough I prefer the emasculated Boris plus competent advisors to Ken and his bunch of corrupt Socialist Alliance cronies.

Good piece, let’s just hope to God he loses tomorrow.

I think thats the first time I’ve felt sympathy for an argument made by Heffer!

4. Innocent Abroad

I think a lot depends on What Boris Wants. And nobody seems to have a clue.

Scenario One. He finds the actual job boring, for the reasons given in the article, and decides to bail out of politics after one term.

Scenario Two. He grafts away and establishes himself as Cameron’s heir apparent.

Scenario Three. He grafts away, is popular, but falls out with Cameron (say over Olympic funding) and decides to run again as an independent in 2012 (possible fall-back position if it doesn’t look like he’s the heir apparent). Ken’s no longer interested, neither party can find a good candidate, he gets back.

I’m actually less worried about Boris than I am about the make-up of the GLA. The BNP need 10.7% of the list vote to take three seats, which (I’m an ultra-bear on the turnout) I fear is doable for them. I know the GLA is pretty toothless, but it does have to pass the Mayor’s budget.

Looks like Simon Hughes has just come out for Ken as the best second preference after Brian….

How about it, Lib Dems?!?!?

Hello Dave Hill – the Andrew Gilligan of the Guardian!

I have to say, Dave, that were I in London I’d probably put Red Ken as my second pref too. Still, Boris can be happy that I don’t. Or unhappy, depending on how he feels about being emasculated.

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