Boris For Britain?

Mar 22 2013 @ 12:32pm

Massie examines the growing possibility for London’s eccentric mayor to replace David Cameron as Tory leader:

[M]any Tories still consider Boris the Clown Prince Across the Water. This despite a record of achievement that is, by objective standards, negligible. Boris has performed adequately as mayor of the capital city, but even his staunchest admirers are hard-pressed to produce any lengthy list of achievements he has to his name. London’s mayor has relatively few powers. Like being governor of Texas, it sounds a weightier position than it really is. There is a fear that, just as the United States was lumbered with George W. Bush, so Britain could be stuck with Boris. Like Bush — whom Boris once described as a “cross-eyed Texan warmonger” — Johnson’s appeal is as much a matter of style as substance. He talks “Real Tory.” From his euroscepticism to his enthusiasm for lower taxes, Boris tickles the Tory party’s erogenous zones. And he does so in a fashion that seems to entertain the public.

I knew Boris when we were both late teenagers at Oxford and did what little I could to help him succeed me as president of the Union. He was then a natural – utterly unembarrassed by his privileged background, wallowing in his plummy upper crust accent, rushing around everywhere with that mop of blond hair. In subsequent years, he has had more sex scandals than one can easily recall, and as Alex notes, is basically a figurehead as mayor of London. I suspect he has found the perfect perch for his populist skills.

But Cameron is flailing. His austerity program has not delivered growth; his party is languishing in the polls against a jejune Labour leader, Ed Miliband; his relative moderation toward Europe has allowed a rival far-right party, UKIP, to grow like the Tea Party (without the fundamentalism). Last week, in another chaotic, incompetent move, Cameron even signed on to a Royal Charter, backed by what Hugh Grant has called a “dab of statute” to regulate press conduct, an unforgivable dismissal of the long British tradition of a free and raucous press.

When Boris became mayor of London, I was gob-smacked. But he has defied categories before and may again. He possesses charm in bucket-loads. He’s an instinctual Tory. His sense of humor – arguably the most important virtue in the British psyche, is priceless. He won re-election handily as London mayor and the Olympics were clearly another personal triumph. BoJo could win any Tory seat offered him – and immediately overshadow many cabinet members.

And Britain has had some truly dull but effective prime ministers – my faves are Baldwin and Major. But it is also the party that gave us Benjamin Disraeli and Margaret Thatcher. There is a radical streak in British conservatism that every now and again provides a truly memorable leader who reshapes the culture as well as politics. I never thought Boris could pull that off. Increasingly, I suspect he might.