Will Boris really run against Cameron?


8:51 am - December 21st 2009

by Sunder Katwala    


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Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who I have to admit has much better Tory connections than I do, writes that “I gather that Boris is highly unlikely to stand for a second term: he has his eyes on the No.10 prize and would need to get back into Parliament somehow”.

This will fuel speculation about whether it is part of a long softening up exercise, so that a final Boris decision not to run does not come as a political bombshell.

I looked at the case for Boris wanting to get out for Liberal Conspiracy at the time of the Standard interview. The fear is not only the damage that a political defeat in 2012 could do to brand Boris; it is also that being in City Hall until 2016, aged 52, would mean missing a return to the Commons at a 2014/15 General Election, and so a good chance of not being an MP during the next Tory leadership contest.

Boris no doubt relishes the image of a man willing to tear up the political rulebook.

But there are three reasons why I don’t think he will duck out of the 2012 race – and why not running again does not really seem to be as smart as those promoting the “one term strategy” may think.

1. I can’t quite see BoJo walking away from a decent shot at the global spotlight of the London 2012 Olympics, just months after the election.

It is not just a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It might also offer a tempting opportunity to compete on both the global and domestic political stage with whoever might then be PM. If he could get himself re-elected, this would be easily the most effective springboard for a leadership bid. (George Osborne would be rather happier if Boris wasn’t Mayor in 2012).

2. If not running is part of his “Boris for PM” strategy, it seems quite likely to backfire and prove counter-productive for Boris’ personal ambitions.

2012 could prove a tough contest for Boris himself. But most Tories think he would have a shot. And they are pretty sure they would be toast without him, as Nelson indicates. But if the party thinks Boris has thrown away the Mayoralty, looking rather like he has put personal ambition before party interests, won’t that harm him with the voters he would need in a future leadership election?

3. To avoid that, Boris would have to find a convincing public excuse for not running for re-election. But what might that be?

It will lack credibility if it does not seem stronger than the three plausible motivations already being publicly discussed, none of which seem to help his further ambitions.

(i) Bottling out of a contest which he fears he could lose, thus damaging his future trajectory.

(ii) Being worried about being out of Parliament when the Tories next elect a leader;

(iii) Not much enjoying the responsibility of exercising executive power. (That may well seem to be the case but it is probably not going to be central to a future pitch for the party leadership and premiership).

——–
A longer version of the article is at Next Left

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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 ,London Mayor ,Westminster

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Reader comments


the conclusion of my Next Left post, from which this is extracted, is that Boris might well think his best response to the dilemma would be to do a Sarah Palin if re-elected ….

http://www.nextleft.org/2009/12/is-boris-highly-unlikely-to-run-again.html
So I suspect Boris will find himself running again for Mayor in 2012. Even if, whisper it, he might not be totally committed 110% to the cause of re-election.

If he does decide to run again, it may well be worth pressing him for a firm pledge that he would serve a full term in City Hall if elected.

But, even if he were to make one, here’s my long-range forecast: Were Boris (God help us) to win again: don’t rule out an early departure, Sarah Palin-style, some time after the Olympic festivities, so that he could seek to return to the Commons at a General Election in 2014 or 2015.

2. Alisdair Cameron

Will Mandy really run against Ken?

Clearly it’s the season for the Westminster village’s rumour-mongers to go full tilt, with wild speculation and top-of-the-head whimsy.

3. Mike Killingworth

I don’t think Boris would quit mid-term for a moment. Doesn’t a mid-term vacancy have to be filled by the GLA (rather than a special Mayoral election)? And the Tories don’t have a majority on the GLA. Far more likely that he’d look for a London seat to contest in the 2014/15 election.

Mandelson would have no chance of winning a Labour primary against Ken. (I don’t think either of them should be after it, but what do I know?) Harriet perhaps, if she doesn’t win the leadership when Brown stands down – she is a London MP after all.

4. Mike Killingworth

Sorry, didn’t mean to leave behind the impression that I like the idea of Harriet for Mayor.

Humph. I’m not sure quite what part the Mayor takes in the 2012 Olympics, which is after all mainly about sport. The preparation will have to be got right before the 2012 election, and Boris is going to have been in place long enough not to be able to blame his predecessor for cockups, particularly caused by cost-cutting.

Mind you, I’m increasingly of the opinion that the internal discontinuities in his policies will damage him before 2012 anyway.

Clearly it’s the season for the Westminster village’s rumour-mongers to go full tilt, with wild speculation and top-of-the-head whimsy.

…or just to lay off the mulled wine for a bit.

As for Ken v Mandy: the latter is a big enough player to take on the former as a ‘stop Ken’ candidate, but the Mayoral level of direct accountability is not Mandy’s forte (after all, Darth Vader was merely the Emperor’s enforcer). Harman could of course try her favourite strategy of assuming her gender constitutes an entire political programme (hey, it got her the deputy leadership…), but running London may demand more than that.

He’ll only go for it when Cameron fails or decides to step down. Boris will not rock the boat in the meantime.

I think there is the impression going around that Boris won’t rustle the feathers of his own party’s front bench, perhaps fairly because he has been loyal in the past. But I can see him tearing up that political rulebook, and jabbing his fists where necessary – this is his obsession.

How about:

4. Cameron will probably last to 2016. If Boris wants to be leader, and if the Conservative Party wants him to be leader, they’ll arrange a way for him to get into the House of Commons when the time comes – they have past form on this in the modern age.

9 – if the Tories win the next election (and I’m pretty confident they will), it’ll take more than one spell in opposition for Labour to get their act together. More like two or three. Especially if they elect Balls or Harman as leader. Cameron will therefore have at least two terms in office (barring unpredictable events…), meaning that the vacancy probably won’t arise until 2018 at the earliest.

If the Tories lose in 2014/5, I’m not entirely convinced that the Party will necessarily want to go straight for a second sequential OE. So Boris’s best chance is that Cameron wins twice and stands down early third term. That’s quite a way off.

Does the leader of the Tory Party have to be an MP?

Were Cameron to win the next election, but lose the one after, and stand down, could Boris be Tory Leader whilst staying Mayor of London, and a separate leader of the parliamentary party? Then get a safe seat either through a by-election or at the next GE?

11 – in theory no reason why not. Alec Douglas-Home became leader of the party when not an MP. He’d have to become an MP smartish though, no hanging round for a few years until the next election.

But I think that if the Tories do lose the next election, the Eton, class, toff thing will be seen as being one of the big reasons why (maybe fairly, maybe not). In those circs, I think opting for a more cartoon-y version of DC might not be to the Party’s liking.

The reason I disagree with Sunny’s analysis of the class war thing, incidentally, is that the attack will not be effective in making the Tories unpopular. It will be effective in making them more unpopular, onc ethey already are so. In the same way, the Tories accusations that Blair was spin-obsessed, casual with the truth and smug had little impact before he started becoming unpopular anyway. Then it started to work.

Were Cameron to win the next election, but lose the one after, and stand down, could Boris be Tory Leader whilst staying Mayor of London, and a separate leader of the parliamentary party? Then get a safe seat either through a by-election or at the next GE?

But the leader of the parliamentary party would have to be PM, which would make Boris being leader of the Tory party fairly meaningless.

@TimJ The theory that if Cameron outright loses the general election after next – itself problematic because I’m certain he will win the next one and the one after that will likely by a hung parliament where he might be able to cut a deal – that the party will produce a non-toff leadership candidate is predicated upon there being a movement within the party that can produce such a candidate and gain enough support to win.

But is there such a movement? Cameron seems to have quelled all internal dissent, and he has the Eurosceptics with him for now – they will either leave to join UKIP or continue to grumble inconsequentially. But perhaps Boris would be the ideal anti-Cameron candidate, despite his background (which has never bothered Tories in the past). He is the plain talking, anti-PC, rabble-rousing no-nonsense, red meat foil to Dave’s chummy, compassionate overtones.

Who else could the party produce? A successor to Ken Clarke to argue passionately for Europe?

Cameron seems to have quelled all internal dissent, and he has the Eurosceptics with him for now – they will either leave to join UKIP or continue to grumble inconsequentially. But perhaps Boris would be the ideal anti-Cameron candidate, despite his background (which has never bothered Tories in the past). He is the plain talking, anti-PC, rabble-rousing no-nonsense, red meat foil to Dave’s chummy, compassionate overtones.

Just as Blair did. Successful leaders are able to quell dissent; it’s when they become unsuccessful that things fall apart. Just ask Thatcher.

And the Tories really are prone to periodic bouts of worrying about background – that’s why David Cameron is the first public school leader of the Tories in nearly 40 years. Just ask Douglas Hurd.


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