By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
The Editor of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson has this week thrown the full weight of his magazine behind the re-election campaign of the most famous person to have ever edited Britain's leading conservative journal. "Why we need Boris", says the front cover of this week's pre-election Spectator. Fraser examines the four big facts about this mayoral race:
- Its importance for the course of this parliament;
- The terrible electoral backdrop for Boris;
- The awfulness of Ken Livingstone;
- The achievements and conservatism of Boris Johnson.
I won't dwell on numbers 2 and 3 this morning because they are very familar to ConHome readers. I will highlight what Fraser Nelson writes about 1 and 4.
Quoting Michael Gove, Fraser suggests the outcome of Boris V Ken might determine the whole shape of the second half of this parliament:
"The Education Secretary spelled out the two alternatives. ‘One is that we will be re-elected, Ed Miliband’s flailing leadership will receive another blow and Conservatism will have been affirmed in the greatest city in the world and we will be on course for a majority. Or we’ll lose. The second half of this parliament will be about Labour being on the turn, coming back ready to govern and David Cameron will be seen as someone who is potentially a lame duck, who has his most powerful campaigner defeated. Someone who clearly has the momentum running away from him. It’s as simple as that, and unless we secure that victory for Boris, all the momentum that we’ve been able to generate in government will dissipate.’"
In reality I don't think it is as simple as that. If Ken Livingstone is elected again it will provide a short-term boost to Labour – and certainly safeguard Ed Miliband's leadership for a period – but it will potentially be a long-term headache for Labour. A Livingstone victory might be interpreted as a victory for his big state sectarianism and pull Labour even further to the Left. That ultimately will be bad for Labour. A Boris victory will also be of mixed benefit to Cameron. It will certainly change the political narrative in the short-term and lift Tory spirits but it will also transform Boris in the eyes of many Conservatives. The idea that he could one day lead the Conservatives will start to grow and that could be destabilising for the Prime Minister. This brings us on to number four in the list above. Fraser reckons Boris is the embodiment of a purer, fresher Conservatism:
"The Mayor matters because he represents a certain strand of Conservatism, unashamed about Tory principles and unafraid of making unpopular arguments. His Toryism is one of tax cuts, standing up for British bankers and defying the European Union when it threatens our prosperity. Boris embodies the rejection of the Blair/Clinton ‘triangulation’ politics, where the least offensive politician is deemed the most successful. This election was always about more than just London. It is about how we do politics, who fights and who wins. Over the last 20 years, our politics has been reduced into a battle for swing voters in swing seats. This has led our political class in a certain direction, directed by the sat-navs of the opinion polls and focus groups. Boris has defiantly set off in another direction, guided by instinct and brio. And this is why his victory matters so much."
These words echo those of John Redwood who, just a week ago. Citing his record on tax, spending, Europe, crime and regulation Mr Redwood concludes: "He knows how to touch the core Conservative vote." Other right-wingers have been making similar noises in previous days. In my view Boris has been a competent and successful mayor but not a great radical. He is more pragmatic than Fraser Nelson is suggesting and, perhaps, John Redwood is hoping. Boris' great quality is that he makes us feel better about our capital city, our party and ourselves. His captivating optimism is his greatest quality. A new poll this morning suggests he's 8% ahead of Ken Livingstone. I'd be amazed if the actual result wasn't a lot, lot closer. If Boris is re-elected after the last few weeks it really will be an enormous achievement. Please make it happen by doing your bit.