Boris Johnson has had a fantastic few days. On Thursday he drove a crowd in Hyde Park wild with his Mitt Romney banter. On Saturday he charmed the public with his thoughts on the Olympic opening ceremony (‘People say it was all leftie stuff. That is nonsense. I’m a Conservative and I had hot tears of patriotic pride from the beginning. I was blubbing like Andy Murray.’) Today, in between talking about glistening otters (which in itself is a feat: a politician getting away with talking about how wonderful it is to see semi-naked women in central London and not sounding like a dirty old man), he has emerged as ConHome readers’ hot choice to lead the Tory party after David Cameron.
It’s worth noting that Conservative members still want Cameron to take the party into the next general election: they do not see him as an electoral liability, and rightly so as he consistently polls ten points ahead of his party.
But when asked who they want as the next Tory leader once Cameron goes, 32 per cent of the site’s readers pick Boris, with William Hague coming in second with 24 per cent.
This is impressive, not least for the obvious reason that Boris isn’t actually an MP and has a significant obstacle to overcome of relinquishing his job as Mayor and being re-elected. But it also shows that Boris is no longer the joke candidate. Yes, he says the most absurd things on a daily basis, but those are now viewed as part of his appeal rather than acting against him: he’s shown he can run City Hall and get re-elected into that position. It’s worth reading Tim Montgomerie’s column in the Times for his view on how Boris has managed this.
For George Osborne, the revelation that only 2 per cent want him to lead the Conservative party suggests the party is losing faith with his abilities. But his shot at the leadership has always been predicated on Cameron’s own success. If Cameron fails to lead the party to success at the polls in 2015, then Osborne’s hopes are dashed anyway. Boris’ success would largely be as a result of Cameron’s failure. This presents a bit of a problem for Boris, though. He would have to resign as mayor and campaign for a parliamentary seat long before it becomes obvious that he has a shot at the leadership. He will have to take an enormous gamble in resigning early as mayor, having gauged Cameron’s hopes of securing a majority – or at least a lead to ensure a coalition from 2015 onwards.
Perhaps one indication of how well Cameron might do in 2015 is the erosion of support the Conservatives are experiencing at grassroots level. ConHome has also found that Tory party membership now stands at between 130,000 and 170,000, down from the 300,000 that Cameron inherited from Michael Howard.