What does No.10 make of Boris’s campaign so far? Not much, judging by Alice Thomson’s column (£) in the Times today:
‘Downing Street is worried. When the mayor came in with his Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby last week, they thought their plans were “underwhelming” and lacked a simple ‘retail offer’ for voters.’
This certainly fits in with what I’ve noted before: that Team Boris is being significantly quieter than Team Ken. Indeed, further research suggests that the current Mayor is trailing far behind his challenger in the all-vital Evening Standard campaign coverage. I’ve sifted through their archives for the past six months, and it turns out that for every Boris initiative being mentioned there are two from Ken. In all of these Ken stories, Boris is reduced to a single line response at the end.
The question, though, is whether this is a failing on Boris’s part, or all part of the plan. An insider suggests to Thomson that it’s the latter:
‘One of Boris’s former advisers thinks that a close race will suit him. “What Boris needs is a fright. He doesn’t want to be watching the Olympics on TV this August…he won’t let Ken win.”’
Either way, it all reminds me of a Spectator-related anecdote in Sonia Purnell’s critical biography of Boris, from when his 2008 campaign was stuttering:
‘Veronica Wadley [then editor of the Evening Standard] who had done more than anyone to make him the Conservative candidate for mayor, publicly attacked Boris in November 2007 for being “pathetic”. In front of a crowd at the Spectator Parliamentary awards lunch, she icily declared: “You need to pull your finger out!”’
Pulling his finger out now would involve clearer messages that translate to the door-step; faster and stronger attacks against Ken; and capitalising on obvious opportunities (where was Boris when the new Routemaster was launched on Monday?). With just two months to polling day, perceptions are being irreversibly set of who has the ideas and who has the lead, such that Boris desperately needs reminding of what Lynton Crosby said when he joined the campaign in 2008: ‘If
you let us down, we’ll cut your f***ing knees off.’ It’s a certainty that No.10 is contemplating the same right now.