Adam Bienkov | Thursday 16 August, 2012 13:10
Who is Boris Johnson? It is a question that is puzzling journalists and voters alike.
“Boris has twice won elections in Labour-leaning London, proving his Tory credentials” claimed one confused hack recently.
“Revered by the Tory party base who believe him to be a proper Conservative… he appeals to a raft of voters who would never usually contemplate voting Conservative” claimed another.
So which is it? Is he a ‘proper Conservative’ with true blue values or a committed centrist with broad appeal?
The beauty of the conundrum is that both sides of the argument can find examples to bolster their case.
Look for evidence of Boris’s Tory credentials and you can find many examples of him criticising immigration, backing bankers, and calling for lower government spending.
But look again and you can find just as many examples of him backing immigration, attacking bankers and calling for even bigger government spending.
The public are similarly confused.
Asked in a recent poll whether Boris would make a better Tory leader than David Cameron, just 30% thought he would as opposed to 33% who thought he wouldn’t.
Similarly just 36% thought he would make a suitable Prime Minister as opposed to 46% who thought he wouldn’t.
The gap amongst Tory voters was even greater with 90% thinking Cameron was a suitable PM as opposed to just 61% who thought Boris could do the job.
So that’s pretty clear. The voters don’t want Boris to replace Dave and Tories don’t back him over Cameron.
And yet when asked how they would vote if the party leaders were Boris, Miliband and Clegg, as opposed to Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, six per cent more switched to the Tories.
So does Boris have a broader appeal than Cameron or a narrower one? Would he win over more voters than Cameron or fewer? You pick your poll and you take your choice.
Of course these are not questions that are likely to bother Boris too much.
In recent months it has become increasingly clear that he wants to take over from Cameron, with every speech, column, and policy position designed to help him in that task.
The commentariat are similarly convinced with acres of print being expended on the subject.
Boris’s leadership campaign has become a huge Westminster village story, despite there being no contest, or even a threat of a contest any time soon.
And Boris is being increasingly touted as a future Prime Minister of Great Britain despite the fact that most of the country has only ever seen him waving a flag and hanging helplessly from a zip wire.
So who is the real Boris and what would he do if he got the job? Well even as somebody who has followed his every utterance and policy decision in the past four years, I am still unclear as to what if any political agenda he has, beyond keeping himself in power.
Strip away the gags, and the high-wire act and there really is very little of substance left underneath.
He is a blank canvas onto which people project their own political convictions. A supposedly libertarian Tory whose first act in power was an alcohol ban and an apparently low-spending Conservative who wants to spend up to £70 billion on a new island airport.
The truth is that Boris has all the steely ideological resolve of an Edward Heath or a Mitt Romney. He is a committed flip flopper. A devout ditherer.
He can write a column attacking political correctness in the morning and then play host to the ‘International Union of Sex Workers’ in the afternoon.
He is as Will Self described him ‘an enigma wrapped inside a whoopee cushion.’ Or to put it another way, he is whatever people want him to be.
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