Friday, 6 May 2016

Boris Johnson Flies to Westeros

by Will Dry

In the hit series Game of Thrones, the Targaryen dynasty is made up of individuals whose veins are filled with dragon blood, and whose hair is silver-white. Daenarys Targaryen is the heroine who has spent much of the series governing Meereen, but has larger ambitions to seize the Iron Throne. As Game of Thrones' season six slowly trudges through this storyline, today, another platinum blonde hero emerges from a city he has governed for many years: Boris Johnson.  

This man regarded by many as a bumbling buffoon,(or the Mad King - last reference I promise), is now the most likely candidate to succeed David Cameron. Winning two elections in a demographically red city has built the Boris brand as someone who can appeal to those whose stomachs are churned listening to other Tories. Despite his charm and wit openly deriving from Greek mythology, and his skill as a wordsmith, he clearly manages to transcend class. Doing all this while still championing Conservative values has made him a darling of the Tory membership. 

However, when he initially joined Parliament it was rumoured he was not reaching out to his colleagues in the chamber. Contrast this to Osborne who wined and dined every member of the 2015 intake, and whose evident power of patronage has made him a useful ally for many aspirational backbenchers and junior ministers. But the tax credit U turn, and Osborne's employment of dodgy tactics in the EU debate, have made him a figure reviled by many of the Tory grassroots. This has resulted in a golden opportunity for Boris: his main opponent's stock has plummeted, and he is on the same side of the EU debate as 70% of Conservative members. Having now left City Hall, it will be pivotal to see if he can build up the network within Parliament needed to be one of the two candidates nominated by Tory MPs who can then compete in a leadership election.  

Despite this, Johnson will face some inevitable challenges. While Team Boris often wheel out his impressive favourability ratings (Boris has +10 net favourability, while Cameron has –17, and Osborne –24), it is argued that this is an indication of the pint test (would you have a pint with them), rather than the Number 10 test (can you see them inside Downing Street). As Mayor, he has not been seen implementing the cuts to public services that every other Conservative has. Once he stands on a leadership manifesto where he will argue for reducing the deficit, and similarly have to wheel out education and health policies, Boris will force people into disagreeing with him who up till now had not had such an opportunity to do so. Also, there is the giant EU referendum meteor heading straight towards planet Johnson. On the off chance the meteor narrowly misses Johnson (and destroys Planet Cameron with its moons Osborne, Javid, and May), then his path to Downing Street will be clear. 

However, if Britain votes to stay in the EU, the pragmatic Conservative membership would likely choose an In campaigner who could unite the party. Having witnessed the carnage caused by Corbyn and Trump, choosing a leader on the basis of personal favourability over electability would be extremely embarrassing for mainstream Conservatives who have watched the Labour and Republican party implode with respective glee and horror. Similarly, if Cameron wins the referendum, it is likely he will continue till 2018 or 2019. In this instance, a candidate's stance on the EU will lose its importance, which could prove another blow to Johnson as it is the one issue that Tory party members are united behind him. Furthermore, the recent trend of all intra-party elections has been for members to vote for their most favoured candidate, forgetting that this candidate must fight a general election as well. This might prove especially true for Conservative members who believe that they will have the ability to choose the next Prime Minister, as Cameron will step down before 2020, and the likely winner of the 2020 election, considering Corbyn's poll ratings. In this instance, members might seize this once in a lifetime opportunity, and choose a real ideologue, such as Gove - who has incidentally topped the last two months of Conservative Home's leadership poll.  

Our titanium-blonde champion is finally free of the shackles of opening a new bus route every other week, and all other menial obligations that are attached with being London Mayor. With Osborne's ambitions chucked in the same disused warehouse as the 'Edstone' and Theresa consistently proving she has the personality of a rusted nail, it is no wonder Boris is the bookies' favourite. However, it is unlikely Boris will simply fly into Downing Street on the back of Drogon: he is yet to amass the support of MPs, his brand is likely to be tarnished by a loss in the EU referendum and a ministerial job which will involve 'tough decisions', and the Tory membership might prefer a radical. Thus, much like Game of Thrones where the show is now beyond the books, nobody has any idea what will happen next.  

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