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The Boris Problem – And How To Minimise It.

Last Updated: Friday, March 14th, 2014

Some readers of this newsletter will have followed this week’s headlines about Tory tensions involving George Osborne, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.  They therefore won’t be familiar with the detail – but will have picked up a clear impression: namely, that the flow of stories about possible future Conservative leaders has done nothing to help the David Cameron’s election chances in 2015.

So it may be worth seeking to disentangle the intentions of those involved, and in doing so to try to get to the roots of the problem.

Gove is a personal friend of Cameron as well as a member of his political circle.  He wants the Prime Minister to win in 2015, and to continue to lead the Party.  He claims to have no leadership ambitions of his own.  This is probably as true as it can be for any senior politician.  He is supporting the future claims for the leadership – if the Tories lose the next election and Cameron quits as leader – of another friend, namely Osborne.

The Chancellor is also a personal friend of the Prime Minister and an even closer member of his political circle than Gove: indeed, this Government is founded on the Cameron-Osborne partnership, at least as far as its Conservative part goes.  He also wants the Cameron to win in 2015, and to continue to lead the Party.  However, he has future leadership ambitions of his own – unlike Gove – and has constructed a formidable political machine within Westminster and Whitehall.

Johnson isn’t a personal friend of the Prime Minister – though the two have come to an accommodation in this Parliament, since the Mayor has no interest in deposing him – and couldn’t remotely be described as a close member of his political circle.  Living with Cameron’s leadership of the Party until the next election and wanting him to win when it takes place are, however, very different things.  Johnson wants to be Party leader and Prime Minister.  Since this is so, he cannot unambiguously want Cameron to win next year.

Furthermore, it is believed that he doesn’t want to serve in any Cameron Cabinet post-2015.  The Westminster Village has therefore concluded that he will only stand for the Commons in 2015 if he believes the Prime Minister will lose it.

These motivations and interests are a better guide to the causes of last week’s Tory difficulties than floated suggestions from the Osborne camp about how to handle the Johnson problem (some suggest that he wants the Mayor to stand in 2015, and others otherwise)…or reports of what the Education Secretary apparently said at a private dinner in America.

The key point is that until or unless Johnson makes his intentions clear, the media will continue to feed on the uncertainty about them – dragging coverage of the Party away from its campaigning messages, to the benefit of its election rivals.

If those intentions are unclear by the time of the autumn’s Party conference, there is a danger for the leadership that it will turn into a Boris Circus.  By then, he needs either to announce that he will stand in 2015, and play a big part in the Tory election campaign, or that he won’t stand – but will campaign enthusiastically for Cameron none the less.  From the point of view of the leadership, a decision can’t come soon enough, either way.

By Paul Goodman



Ruth Davidson MSP: Scotland’s referendum debate is revitalising Scotland’s Conservatives “What heartens me most about our future is that our party is on the right side of the big policy issues as well as the constitutional question. The left-leaning consensus in Holyrood’s political village might not notice, but the fact is that on a host of bread and butter concerns, the public mood is moving our way too…People in Scotland realise the same truths apply; that the welfare state needs reform , that our relationship with the EU needs to be improved, and that – at a time when money is so tight – people and businesses should be allowed to keep more of their hard-earned cash.
Starting from our conference today, our task is to focus on these, the real values  of Scottish voters. We need to show people we are relevant and serious once again.” Read more here:

Peter Hoskin: Pinning Down Miliband – Housing Policy  “If he really is to reach that 200,000 mark, Miliband might have to bank on the “new towns and garden cities” part of his policy agenda – but, boy, if that doesn’t stir up bad memories of the last Government’s eco-town scheme. This, you’ll remember, was intended to create affordable, environmental housing for tens-of-thousands of – how did they put it back then? – hard-working families, but nothing came of it. One problem was the proposed locations for these towns, which, as I noted for Coffee House, were far removed from jobs and transport hubs. Another problem was the opposition these towns faced, culminating in a protest outside Parliament. Towns rarely pop-up – whoosh! – like the politicians would have you believe.” Read more:

Lord Ashcroft: Miliband’s referendum non-pledge will win votes for Labour – if the Conservatives let it  “Used intelligently, the Conservatives’ distinctive policy can win it votes. The party can now say quite unambiguously to Eurosceptic voters that only a Tory government will guarantee the in-out referendum they want…But for others (that is to say, for most people) it is not. By putting the referendum pledge at the front and centre of its 2015 campaign the Conservative Party would not only be missing the chance to talk about the things most voters care about more, like the economy, jobs and public services. It would also, as far as these voters are concerned, be proving again the out-of-touchness (outness of touch?) of which it has for so long been accused. That is the trap Ed Miliband has set for the Tories. Surely they won’t be so daft as to fall into it?” Read more:

Paul Goodman: The NHS winter crisis that never happened  “The version of events from the Department of Health is that panic measures wouldn’t have prevented a crisis in any event: that what matters is ensuring that A & E departments work as well as it can – and that there is a plan for the long-term to ease hospital admissions.  Hunt’s team says that there are some 350 more doctors in A & E and that the average wait to be seen has come down – as has the wait for treatment (in the former case, 33 minutes compared with 77 minutes; in the latter, 75 minutes compared with 102).  NHS statistics are notoriously contestable.  But resources have undoubtedly been concentrated on A & E.” Read more:

Mark Field MP: Next week, Osborne should offer some forward guidance of his own – on tax cuts  “I wonder whether here we might cleverly borrow some tricks from the Bank of England. While the notion of ‘forward guidance’ has proved a mixed success so far for new Governor, Mark Carney, it might be a useful tool for the Chancellor. I have always doubted the wisdom of promising instant, substantial tax cuts as it puts in jeopardy our central mission to restore order to the public finances. However, reducing the tax burden should always be a part of the Conservative offering. As such, I would suggest that in his Budget speech a week today, the Chancellor offers his own brand of forward guidance, giving a clear signal that when progress on reducing the deficit breaks past a certain point, a series of tax cuts will kick in.” Read more:

By Paul Goodman

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