Only in the month of August, in the UK, could a leading political figure that got stuck up a zip wire be an act of burnishing leadership credentials. Of course it helps that the figure was Boris Johnson, a politician seemingly inverse to the supposed rules of politics on our tiny isle. But burnish his governing élan it did; the media duly went into hysterics and summoned crypto-political analysis to ponder how this latest act was a direct threat to David Cameron. If this had occurred to any other senior politician in the UK, the likelihood of their reputation being enhanced is risible. But Boris escaped unharmed and, somewhat unbelievably, the commentariat have used this latest display of buffoonery to detail, in quite the most serious terms, how Boris Johnson could well be our next prime minister.
Truly, he defies political gravity.
One suspects that the recent feverous froth ‘zipwire-gate’ conjured up was down, in large part, to the fact that firstly, it’s August and our media are bored. For the next four weeks they have the added incentive that they can run stories, however tenuous, under the ‘silly season’ bracket and plausibly get away with. And secondly, our media, so used to the influence of dedicated rolling news channels, are not getting any attention as the Olympics is on.
But seriously he should be taken. LabourList’s Matt Zarb-Cousin argued reasonably that Boris is a politician the public are crying out for. In that he joins the ranks of columnists from the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and the Guardian – all of whom see a Prime Minister Johnson as an overt possibility.
Boris Johnson is a joke that stops being funny when he gets near the levers of high office. Being London Mayor is one thing. The powers are limited and being a joker plays well. Being Prime Minister is another. People voted for Ken Livingstone to be Mayor, but they never would have put him into Downing Street. The same fate will fall Boris.
The logistics are an obvious enough barrier to prevent him from ever crossing the door at Number Ten, long before, heaven forbid, the British public have a chance to put him there. To make his move to the national stage in the context of unbridled personal greed and gain would be deeply damaging and so transparently ambitious. Potential leaders never become leaders when they display such lust for power and at best ambiguous loyalty to their leader.
But his personal politics are also nowhere near as attractive as some may think. He is, I have long suspected, a canvas on which disgruntled Conservatives can paint whatever they want. He is but a screen on to which people project their own views. Boris’ appeal and authority, at the moment, as a potential leader arises from being a popular Mayor of London. But he trades almost exclusively on being antidote to politics. For him to climb the greasy poll would take all the superficial shine off him.
Allies argue that there is a serious man behind the buffoonery (for his sake, I hope so), who can master a brief quickly and faultlessly. He is not to be readily dismissed as he has, after all, won twice in Labour-leaning London – albeit against a disastrous Labour candidate. But people seemingly forget why he was forced to the London fray in the first place: he was an unremarkable Shadow Minister who made a serious of offensive and bumbling remarks, devoid of serious intent and a poor Commons performer who was eventually sacked by Michael Howard for lying to the then Conservative leader. Whilst it is unpleasant to note, it must be said that there are doubts Johnson’s private life would survive the inevitable scrutiny of high office.
His appeal outside London is a complete unknown, but having the Tory-dwelling leafy suburb of Bromley vote for you in droves is different to winning in the North, Scotland and inner cities – as the Tories must do if they are to prevail come 2015 and beyond. He is a profoundly flawed character, with as many enemies on his own side as in Labour’s. Far from walking a general election, if and when he ever does reach his ultimate ambition he will crumble.
And Labour will be waiting for him.