Why Boris Johnson should not be the next leader of the Conservative Party
Boris Johnson is back in the running to lead the Conservative Party. This is the conclusion many have drawn from a recent Conservative Home poll, in which nearly 30% of party members asserted their wish for the former Foreign Secretary to succeed Theresa May. These numbers put him head and shoulders above his potential competitors – Sajid Javid, who takes second place in the poll, achieves only 18%.
Not only party members, but the media at large seem to think Johnson a realistic option for party leader. While this may be unsurprising in the case of, say, the Daily Telegraph, this belief is unrelated to political leaning. The Times is openly speculating about the course of a potential victory by Boris – and even the Independent now considers him a favourite for the leadership.
Yet the media’s relentless focus on Johnson is as unhelpful as the man’s ascent to the leadership is unlikely. What few on Fleet Street mention is that Boris tops the ratings only in the shallowest of categories: likeability. 4 out of 5 party members – 80% – consider him a ‘likeable’ man. In all other aspects, he is far behind most other serious candidates for the role: only 57% consider him a ‘strong leader’; the same percentage consider him ‘up for the job’; and a measly 50% think him ‘competent’.
This last value is particularly worrying; he is the only serious leadership candidate recently to have held a position as major as Foreign Secretary. If he has appeared so incompetent in so illustrious a role, what hope is there for him as Party leader – and, worse, as Prime Minister?
Indeed, if he is perceived so negatively in so many key aspects by party members, one scarce cares to imagine how little credit he would be given by the general public – much of which sees him more as a bumbling buffoon than a serious politician. Even the occasional PR stunts with which he has attempted to engender goodwill – viz. serving reporters tea instead of answering their questions – have served only to cement his reputation as an eccentric showman rather than an earnest statesman.
Nor has this perception been helped by his subpar performance in his most recent role as foreign secretary. From Italy to France and from Libya to Burma, his constant gaffes have sullied the UK’s reputation with important international partners, and rendered him personally a resented, unpopular figure in many of the countries that he has visited.
Even now, when he should in his own interest keep a low profile and court support from everyone within the broad church that is the Conservative Party, he is not loath to make hasty and undiplomatic statement about, e.g., Burka-wearers resembling post-boxes. This complete inability ever to moderate and tone down his statements seems innate to him regardless of any role he might hold. There is no reason to believe that he would be less openly outspoken as Prime Minister than he was as Foreign Secretary, as Mayor of London, or now as a de-facto candidate for the leadership. Vulpes pilum mutat, non mores.
It is understandable that many Conservatives hope for a dyed-in-the-wool Brexiteer to be their next Party leader and Prime Minister. Theresa May’s uncertain, vacillating stance on Brexit has after all profoundly irritated many Party members on both sides of the argument; her recent turn towards a soft Brexit has further inflamed tempers, especially on the Leavers’ side.
Yet there are so many suitable options for the leadership. Sajid Javid’s distinguished career in business and straightforward competence in government certainly qualify him for the role. Ruth Davidson, who helped bring the Scottish Tories out of their decade-long decline, may yet revive the national Conservative Party, too. Even Jeremy Hunt – not long ago one of the least popular men in Britain – is proving himself a more competent Foreign Secretary than Johnson was, and would be preferable to him as leader.
Most Party members recognise that these well-regarded, reasonable men and women are more suitable for the leadership than Johnson ever could be. Yet the press scarce writes a word about Javid or Davidson; instead, it champions hopeless candidates that would lead the Party into electoral ruin. It is to be hoped that Party members’ common sense will ultimately prevail over this fatuous fantasising from Boris’s far-too-many fans.