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To follow is the recent article in The Spectator I know many of you will find of interest and relevance. Can the Cameroons really learn anything from Boris? Look forward to hearing your views.
Boris says what he thinks almost without thinking. Cameron’s pronouncements are carefully calibrated. Work on Cameron’s conference speech began in July, Boris’s was written on the train to Manchester
As the most powerful Conservative in Britain, Boris Johnson has plenty to teach his old schoolpal, David Cameron. But, says James Forsyth, the Cameroons are too busy criticising the Mayor’s ‘amateurish’ approach to see what they’re missing
As a piece of political propaganda, the sticker issued by the Shelter housing charity at the last Tory conference came close to perfection. It had a picture of the Mayor of London in jogging gear, with the caption: ‘Boris is making the running on rough sleeping. Join the race, Cameron!’ This was how Shelter thought they could best get their message across: goading Team Cameron into action by comparison with Mr Johnson. It was a clever use of a fast-emerging narrative in Westminster: the great Boris v. Dave rivalry.
It is a point of fact, now, to say that Mr Johnson is the most powerful Conservative in the land. The idea, though, of the Mayor as a great pioneer, beating a path for the laggards in Westminster to follow, is one which annoys many people around Cameron. When I told one shadow Cabinet member that I was doing a piece on what Cameron could learn from Boris they looked at me with genuine concern before warning, ‘they’ll really hate that.’
This tension between the two camps makes the Boris v. Dave story irresistible to the media. But Boris has been busy seasoning this stew, outflanking Cameron and Osborne on those Tory staples of tax and Europe. Among the Tory grassroots, there are now a growing number of Conservatives who like to think of the Mayor as a lodestar: a man less apologetic in his conservatism, and indeed everything else, than the leader.
James continues his observations and believes that: “both Boris and Dave are, of course, Old Etonians who graduated to Oxford and then the Bullingdon Club. But they are not cut from the same cloth. The Mayor’s friends enjoy pointing out that he went to Eton on a scholarship. Cameron supporters retort that while Boris left Oxford with only a 2:1, Cameron took a First. Their styles are also opposites: one suave and assured, the other dishevelled and chaotic. Boris says what he thinks almost without thinking. Cameron’s pronouncements are carefully calibrated. Work on Cameron’s conference speech began in July, Boris’s was written on the train to Manchester.
But though they have very different approaches to reaching the top, they are both united at least in their determination to get there. Some time ago, Mr Cameron made this public and declared himself pleased that Mr Johnson aspired to be Prime Minister. And as he rightly said, these are not Blair-Brown rivalries. But there are, nonetheless, tensions and suspicions. So when Boris does something that causes the leadership political trouble (which happens quite often), the leadership can’t quite believe it was accidental.
At the Tory spring forum in Cheltenham, all the talk was of Boris’s firm opposition to the 50p tax rate — something that Cameron and Osborne had decided they had to accept for political reasons. The contrast was clear. While Team Cameron tried to avoid the subject, the Mayor said clearly that this tax was vindictive and counter-productive because it would push the rich, their money, or both to one of the 192 countries with a lower top rate of tax.
Boris’s clarity won him plaudits on the right. But it infuriated Cameron and Osborne’s advisers, who thought that Boris was playing into Brown’s hands. They couldn’t understand why Boris had failed to grasp the politics of the issue: that the Tories couldn’t be seen to be the party of the rich few. They assumed that the Mayor was instead playing internal party politics.
The Boris irritations grew. At conference, he unpicked the party’s damage limitation work on the Europe question by declaring that he would still like to see a referendum regardless of whether Lisbon was ratified: yet again outflanking the leadership on the right. It was, to some, proof of an ambition to position himself as a purer Conservative than Cameron. An exasperated Cameron said to one of Boris’s advisers at the time, ‘I was the first on my feet to applaud his speech. What more do I have to do to keep him happy?’
At each turn, Boris — and his allies — robustly deny any ulterior motive. But those who believe the Mayor’s demeanour to be a carefully calculated act reject this immediately. And Boris does seem rather to enjoy tweaking the tails of Cameron and Osborne. When he delivered a speech at the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards, he managed to work in references to the embarrassing items in both Cameron and Osborne’s expenses which were hardly the most noteworthy of the whole sorry saga.
The tensions between the three men can be traced back to when they used to prepare Iain Duncan Smith for PMQs on a Wednesday morning. Cameron and Osborne would turn up on time, briefed and with zingers ready to go. Boris would arrive late, wing it and try to leave early. In the words of one participant in these meetings, ‘Osborne was superb, Cameron very good and Boris shambolic.’ And this seemed to bother Boris not at all.
Boris’s amateurish approach left a deep impression on Cameron and Osborne, who consider themselves to be consummate professional politicians. They didn’t think of Boris as a possible mayoral contender until several other options had been exhausted. Three years ago, Mr Cameron would remark in private that Boris’s career had hit a dead end. ‘He has become stuck in a buffoonish rut, and he will never escape,’ he once said. ‘It’s a shame. But there we are.’
When Boris was chosen as the Tory mayoral candidate, help came quickly. Osborne imposed on him Lynton Crosby, who had run the Tory campaign in 2005. The logic was that Crosby, a no-nonsense Australian, would keep the Boris campaign on the rails, which he did. When Boris won, Nick Boles, a leadership ally who had been going to run for mayor until he was diagnosed with cancer (from which he has now recovered), was put in charge of the transition.
But there has always been a fear — almost a paranoia — that Boris might make a spectacular mistake which would torpedo the Tories’ effort to portray themselves as competent. After Boris plugged Transport for London’s funding gap with a massive increase in bus fares — ergo hitting poor Londoners hardest — aides to the Cameron leadership fretted that ‘he’s making us look bad’. Yet oddly, what has made Boris look bad is the resignation of his various deputies. But this is not entirely his fault. Mr Boles, imposed on Boris by Cameron, must take a considerable part of the blame for failing to vet people properly.
But Boris has a great antidote to accusations of incompetence: charm. He jokes that he has made efficiencies in cutting the number of deputy mayors. He has the ability to laugh off incidents that would finish other politicians. Make no mistake: this is a rare and powerful political skill. Boris has chutzpah and pizzazz; he gives the attractive impression that unlike other politicians he isn’t completely weighed down by self-importance.
Take the question of class. The focus groups that followed Osborne’s ill-advised decision to set foot on Oleg Deripaska’s yacht were extremely harsh about Osborne’s privileged background. Cameron was rattled by the level of resentment they contained. But no one seems to mind Boris being posh, in spite of the fact that he plays up to upper-class stereotypes far more than Cameron and Osborne so carefully play them down. Some argue that this is the key: Boris does not seem remotely embarrassed about his life — he is who he is.
Whatever the BoJo Factor is, it allows him to leap into territory that his Westminster rivals view as beyond reach. But when it comes to actual policy, there is more harmony than you would guess. It is worth remembering that the issues where Boris has differed most publicly with the leadership — Europe and tax — are outside the Mayor’s competence.
The links between Boris’s City Hall and the Cameron operation are significant. Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor in charge of policing, is a major influence on Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary. Anthony Browne, the Mayor’s point man on economic policy, is in close touch with Cameron’s main policy-maker, Oliver Letwin. And Boris’s chief of staff Sir Simon Milton is widely believed to be line for a ministerial job in a Cameron government.
For this reason, Mr Cameron may come to incorporate some of Boris’s policy. An example is the so-called ‘living wage’ — a minimum wage £1.87 an hour more than the national minimum wage. This already applies in City Hall, and Mr Cameron will be challenged to offer the same deal to central government’s London-based employees. He might struggle to do this, given the precedent it could set in other cities and the mutilated state of the public finances. But it is a sign of London’s influence that the Tories nationally are open to the idea.
The shadow Cabinet now publishes its expenses online as Boris’s team do. The Tories are also committed to putting public spending data on the internet as Boris has done in London.
Is this following Boris’s lead or simply the same ideas from the same team? The egos involved in the relationship between the Cameron and Boris camps mean that there would be paternity suits over who is the father of many of these ideas; many were given to Boris’s team during the campaign by the centre in a bid to beef up its meagre policy offering. Boris’s policy development process was rather roughshod. His most celebrated move, banning alcohol on the Tube, was thought up by Lynton Crosby’s wife when she encountered New Zealanders on a Circle Line pub crawl.
But what cannot be denied is that in terms of political style, Cameron really should try to learn from Boris. Boris’s secret is his authenticity: voters feel that they are getting what they see and not being spun a line. They respect that.
The rough edges in politics are, often, what shows the public who a politician really is. When someone is going against the received wisdom or taking a risk, you know that they mean what they are saying. Cameron’s fault is that he is perhaps too perfectly presented, too polished, too preoccupied with spin.
The thought of sitting at the feet of his arch rival will not appeal to Cameron in the slightest — it’s much better fun for Cam and his gang to sit around listing the Mayor’s failings. But what makes a leader truly great is the ability to overcome pride and to learn from others. If Dave can resist the temptation to denigrate Boris and instead to study his style, then he may yet overtake him as the most powerful Conservative in the land.”
For a fuller version of this article read The Spectator