If yesterday was the peak of enthusiasm for Boris Johnson’s hopes for the Tory leadership (Guido noted that every broadsheet commentator discussed the Mayor of London in their Saturday columns), then today is very much the morning after. The first sobering voice came from William Hague as he popped up on Sky News to warn Boris against a leadership putsch.
‘Boris is doing a great job as Mayor of London and people love him the more they see him, and that’s great… but I think it is true to say – and certainly it is true for me – that I hope and believe that we are not looking for a long time for any new leader of the Conservative Party. We have got the best leader and the best Prime Minister we have had in a long time, and I think it will be some time before we Conservatives are looking for a new leader.’
Hague’s words tally with a poll in the Sunday Times which suggests the public are not quite as enthusiastic as party donors (£) about Boris’ chances. Given the success of the Olympics so far, it is not surprising he is the top choice to replace David Cameron if he stood down as Prime Minister before the next election. But Boris does only score 24 per cent of the votes, with the largest proportion of voters — 34 per cent — saying they don’t know who they would like to take over from Cameron.
It’s also interesting that only 19 per cent of those polled said they would be more likely to vote Conservative if Boris replaced Cameron, and over half said the change of leader would make no difference to their voting intention. Though he’s proved adept at stirring up crowds in the run-up to and during the Games, 33 per cent of voters said Boris would make a worse leader or Prime Minster than Cameron. But he still beats his main rival within parliament: George Osborne, who 56 per cent believe would make a worse leader.
Finally, in today’s Observer, long-term Johnson sceptic Sonia Purnell examines whether Boris is actually ‘loveable and funny’ and whether he would make a credible leader:
‘While his stint as mayor has undoubtedly been brilliant for Project Boris, it is far from clear that London has equally benefited. The capital has some of the highest public transport fares in the world, yet offers an unreliable service. Its police force has undergone its worst internal crisis for a generation, with the mayor burning through three commissioners in as many years. The Boris Bike hire scheme, while popular, is a financial swamp costing more than £100m; we are in danger of breaching EU rules on pollution; the cycling death rate is rising; there are disturbing trends in some areas of crime. Does this qualify him to become prime minister in times like these?’
As we discussed on this week’s View from 22 podcast, besides the obvious logistical issues, the biggest test for Boris if he made the leap across the Thames would be how he would cope with a greater level of scrutiny. His knack for dodging questions from assembly members in City Hall does not hold him in such good stead for Prime Minister’s Questions. And his personal conduct would come in for far greater scrutiny. A stronger — and more critical — limelight might not be a positive thing for the Mayor.