What David Cameron can learn from Boris

By special request

Melissa C-W
Melissa C-W

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

11 thoughts on “What David Cameron can learn from Boris”

  1. Just love this piece and so true – just as well Christmas is coming up and all parties will have a bit of a break away from the cut and thrust of politics.

  2. the Cameroons are too busy criticising the Mayor’s ‘amateurish’ approach to see what they’re missing.

    He is ‘amateurish’. many say rather spineless too. A weather vane who would compromise what few beliefs he has for votes.

  3. Mr. Forsyth goes to the heart of the matter : Boris speaks from the heart, David from the head.

    In so many matters — Europe, taxation (auf Laboursprache ‘wealth re-distribution’) and, most important of all, climate change — David has pursued the line he or perhaps his advisors have thought would appeal most to the electorate, regardless of the implications for the country of the implied policy.

    Is it too late to change ? Were he to undergo a ‘conversion’ now — making a commitment to a plebiscite on the E.U. or evincing comprehension of the fraud involved in the A.G.W. industry — might it be taken as mere political opportunism, inviting ever more comparison with the unlamented Mr. Blair ? … Such comparison surely does him nothing but harm. (This article even makes the same point : “Cameron’s fault is that he is perhaps too perfectly presented, too polished, too preoccupied with spin.”)

    Boris might hanker after the top job but I sense that he’s too loyal a friend to launch a bid for it whilst his chum is incumbent. Perhaps it’s just as well : who in his right mind would want to move in to Number 10 just in time to take the blame for the effects of the policies that will be needed to rectify the disaster of the last dozen years ?

  4. Brilliant read!”And Boris does seem rather to enjoy tweaking the tails of Cameron and Osborne” hehehe love “Boris’s secret is his authenticity: voters feel that they are getting what they see and not being spun a line. They respect that” so true!

  5. This tension between the two camps makes the Boris v. Dave story irresistible to the media.

    Of course, one also wonders (at least I always do) if things like this aren’t also to some extent a product of the media. The media love feuds and all things “vs.”. They make great headlines. No good headline ever came out of two people agreeing to disagree so any agreement MUST be a sign of larger issues, right? Only I’m not sure.

    They are very different individuals as the piece points out. If there are things that Boris does that bug Dave & Co., I imagine they are the same things Boris has always done that has always gotten under their skin. So if that isn’t new, then maybe it’s the fact that it’s playing out at a much higher level now.

    Well, maybe. But surely no one expected Boris to be in lockstep with anyone all the time? If they did – then they were naive and foolish. Did they think Boris would turn suddenly into someone else? Dave & Co HAVE met him, right? So they can’t honestly be surprised. If they are, that says much more about Dave & Co. than it does Boris.

    Not sure it is the stuff that feuds are made of – unless someone is using it to further a tangential agenda (which I’m perfectly willing to believe since that’s a very typical “& Co.” type move. Happened a lot during the elections here) or other outside forces are agitating. (I’m looking at YOU, media people)

    Boris’s secret is his authenticity: voters feel that they are getting what they see and not being spun a line.

    Is that a secret? It seems very front and center to me. Maybe THAT is what makes Dave & Co so cranky. That fact that Boris appears to have the freedom to let it all hang out. (Metaphorically, please. My delicate sensibilities shy away at anything more.) Dave & Co. can’t let it all hang out yet. They are still playing for the top spot and must pick their way carefully. It’s as if they are running a long distance relay. They didn’t want Boris on the relay team ’cause they were afraid he’d drop the baton (or hide it as a joke or something) so they assigned him the sprint. Only the spring is over. He’s run it, won it and headed over the clubhouse to enjoy himself. Meanwhile Dave & Co are still on the track and a tad annoyed that some of the spectators are bored by men in suits running around the same track they always run around and would rather watch Boris tie knots in cherry stems with his tongue — or whatever his bar trick is. It was the only one I could think of off the top of my head. I have no idea whether Boris can perform such a feat.

    All that said, I have to admit I haven’t followed the evolution of this whole thing that closely so I may have it completely wrong. Still, it was nice to focus on someone else’s politics for a while. I’ve been very let down this week (more so than usual) by my useless state legislature. Even if Boris, Dave & Co., and the whole rest of the lot over there drive you bonkers – I can guarantee you that they are 125% better than anyone sitting in the New York State Senate.

  6. It’s a funny one. Cameron kind of came from nowhere – we hadn’t heard of him until his party conference speech for the leadership. Everyone, bookies included, thought David Davis was a shoe-in.

    Cameron is obviously a sharp political operator, while sharp political operators seem to think Boris is some kind of liability – but the public love him.

    To be honest, I’m losing interest in politics a bit. The debate has got so ridiculous now and with the web, people can see through the spin a lot easier.

    The cynic in me thinks it won’t make that much difference who is PM. I find myself thinking the world has been ruled by people who want to sell us guns and oil for 8 years, now it’s ruled by people that want to sell us ‘carbon’.

    I’m not sure DC, BJ or anyone else for that matter has enough clout to take on the massive vested interests that surround us. I think the UK needs a change and all I can do is hope for the best really.

  7. Nice Mel, but a bit tame. I thought you’d be running through the leaves in slow motion as they swirled about you making you look like the very essence of mellow fruitfulness. Still, mustn.t grumble. Thanks anyway, Your monkey boyxxxx

  8. firstly i have to say that i do take a liking to both ‘boris and dave’.
    i believe it is easy to make comparisons between two people like themselves and weigh up the pro’s and cons, although it seems to me that they are both very different not only in person but in role and ability.

    when i tell my friends that i like boris (my friends being around 20ish) they usually reply with ‘yeah hes al-rite’ or such like.
    then when they see his signed photo on my wall they get slightly puzzled as to why i am such a great fan.
    well boris has that something we can all see it.
    he is a man of the people he gets on well with the public.
    now even though we haven’t all had the educational chances that he has we can still connect with boris.
    normally someone with such an upbringing is generally disliked for that reason by those less fortunate.
    But boris is different he may have the upper class accent but that’s all that really separates him from people such as myself.
    He is not ‘stuck up’ shall we say and does not look down upon anyone less fortunate than himself he just tries to connect with the public by focusing on matters that effect our daily way of life.
    as a mayor boris is perfect for example when ken was in power many people including myself found politics rather boring, don’t get me wrong i have always liked to know what is going on but wasn’t that enthusiastic about the subject. The only time politics crept my way was either snippets of the news broadcasts and through the time i would use reading Private Eye.
    Now that particular magazine says it all for me really i was looking for entertainment not politics but if the two were used well enough together i was more than happy to have a good ole laugh at the way the country was being run.

    now i am talking from about the age of 16 onwards i suppose when most young people are interested in staying out with friends music etc, little did they know about my well hidden political self-medicating i was doing when i went home, i never took it too seriously just a source of entertainment.
    you see that’s what boris does he gives a lighter side to the political world which dear ken failed miserably at.
    yes politics is not to be laughed at it is important but why not enjoy ourselves learning about it?
    Now when ken was mayor i honestly had no idea what was going on i think in his whole time the only thing i remember was the erection of the gherkin! Im still not exactly sure why that particular building was built after all its not much of an addition to our skyline , maybe a pickled onion may of been more interesting???
    No what i found was that if you did have an interest in london’s politics then you had to actually take time out of your day to find out what was going on, which many couldnt be bothered to do. I may of done once or twice but i think i fell asleep upon reaching one of kens speeches zzzzzzz

    Boris makes people interested i find the younger generation are getting more involved as they no longer see the are as an after school lesson or even detention for some.
    instead they find it quit entertaining, and hey do not have to even look to find a source of information as boris makes sure everyone knows the ins and outs of every part of his job, what he is doing/ plans to do and makes sure he finds out exactly what it is the public are looking for instead of just pleasing those throwing money at city hall (my own opinion of couse).
    We cant move for boris we see him everywhere he uses the media to get through to all of us and is one reason why i started watching the news again, my aunt always rings me up if i am missing an appearence so i can switch over :O) .
    I am sure that almost everyone in the country knows what our mayor looks like by now , thats another thing the whole country seems to take an interest in boris not just london alone. Plus he does not use the media alone , he gets himself out there where the people are overseeing projects and community matters or even just a visit to an area to make sure we are all having a ‘jolly good’ time.

    Now this is a quality we do not see so much in mr cameron i doubt as many people are aware of him as they are of our boris and alot less can tell you what he actually looks like.
    now he does have a need to be in the public eye i suppose but it seems with any mp’s we only see them out and about when it comes to elections. Maybe they would be much more successful when the time comes had they built up a realationship with the people such as boris has done.
    Also once the chosen mp has achieved what they had set out to do ive noticed they again become less in-touch with the public than during the competition.
    when an mp becomes pri minister etc they tend to worry less about what the public’s needs are and views upon things as well… they’ve won haven’t they?
    But no our boris has maintained a brilliant relationship with the people and even though is secure in the place of mayor he still has a great active interest in Londoner’s lives he obviously wants to and is very keen on doing the job and i think is very proud of his achievements in this role.

    Now the place of pri minister is a whole new kettle of fish, you are not only looking after the public’s interest but also what is best for the country and many different rules/regulations and BUDGETS have to be taken notice of before any decision is made, and no decision is to be taken lightly. Well we do wish to continue being a land of hope and glory now do we not?
    So cameron must pay an awful lot more attention to the paperwork side of things which means alot less people time to make up for the extra homework needed to make sure he is always up to date on everything.
    We only really get to see him in action if we look into his work but i must admit it is well worth a gande over to the parliament channel (good ole freeview!) now and again.
    I mean will it really harm you if you miss that one episode of that particular chat show you so lovingly watch? After all you know deep down the woman will go back to him in the end its always the way lol
    i have been in stitches watching mr cameron air his views on pri ministers question time (although mr brown wasn’t quite so entertained lol)

    But teats the thing you see when we say that boris is more popular in the public eye we forget that this is because he has the time to get out there and be seen im sure we would all like mr cameron alot more than we do now after all he seems like a very nice bloke, had he the time to put in all the public appearances that boris has.

    (and no i am not saying Boris has loads of free time he works extremely hard)

    that’s the thing you see Boris has a job which focuses on the public what they want and need.
    the only way he can find out what to do for us (his top client) is by asking us in person so thats what he does, if the people are not happy he is not working to the best of his ability.
    where as mr cameron has 2 or 3 clients;
    the public,
    members of parliament,
    What is actually best for the country. (this sometimes means leaving the public unhappy for a while to produce a greater long-term result)
    As we all know if you are to go for the job of pri-minister you need as many members of parliament on your side as you can get, so you need to not only win over the hearts and minds of the public but also those of the mp’s around you, which is slightly harder as they not only probably all want the same job but also have their own strict views and ways of operating and of course preferences (in relation to old friends within the parties etc)

    so i must say i do like both of these men and understand where each is coming from but they have completely different job roles so must perform in a way most suited to their position i suppose.
    Though with both really having the same political views i believe that maybe we should not be comparing the two but looking at the amazing outcomes we could reach if they were both in power, im sure we would greatly benefit from such a partnership between the country and the capital ……

    Boris Johnson Mayor of London

    David Cameron P.M………

    A force to be reckoned with do you not think…….?

  9. Hi Melissa,

    I can say that it might be better fun for Cam and his gang to sit around listing the Mayor’s failings. Also once the chosen MP has achieved what they had set out to do I have noticed they again become less in-touch with the public than during the competition.

    – Vincent T.

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