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Caveat emptor - Boris is not a standard issue Conservative

By Tim Montgomerie
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Boris Johnson is the only Tory politician to have won a major election in more than twenty years. He won in traditionally Labour territory. Twice. Once in the middle of a period of Tory-led austerity. His popularity with the general public is exceptional. The bounce he enjoyed after last summer's Olympics has been sustained according to a ComRes poll in yesterday's Independent on Sunday. He enjoys a favourability rating of 44% compared to Cameron's 23%. In the absence of a compelling alternative the Tories would be making a good bet in choosing Boris as their leader at some unknown point in the future. If the party does ever choose him as its leader it should go into the arrangement with its eyes wide open, however. As I argue in today's Times (£) Boris is typical of a number of centre right politicians who have prospered in normally left-of-centre jurisdictions... and that will upset some Tories.

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Boris is similar to other centre right politicians who've prospered in left-of-centre cities and states. He shares Arnold Schwarzenegger's relaxed approach to immigration and some of the former California Governator's greenery. Like New York's Giuliani he has the same commitment to abortion rights and full equality for gay people and minorities. Like the interventionist Heseltine - Maggie's minister for Liverpool after the 1980s riots - he favours grands projets. 

Reflecting on last week's launch of his 2020 Vision document there seem to me to be three major potential tensions between Boris and Tory traditionalists:
  • His Heseltinian interventionism: This is the major theme of my Times piece. The last fortnight has seen Labour take opaque steps towards accepting George Osborne's spending limits. I stress opaque because I wouldn't be sure that the two Eds would keep to them for long. Boris evidences no great caution on his ambitions for government-led infrastructure projects. It's almost as if he's the last Keynesian standing. Whether it's a new four runway airport for London, a second Crossrail, one million new homes, greater borrowing by local councils or 250,000 taxpayer-supported apprenticeships, Boris believes in active government. This infrastructuralism as much as his opposition to the 50p tax rate and the mansion tax defines his economic philosophy. Perhaps he didn't always think in these terms but the Olympics projects may have helped change his mind.
  • His social liberalism: If Tories don't like Cameron for supporting gay marriage then they shouldn't look for a change of direction from Boris. This, remember, is the man who walked at the head of London's Gay Pride march wearing a pink cowboy hat. On other issues - notably abortion - Boris is very much a social liberal.
  • His support for immigration: I can't quite get to the bottom of Boris Johnson's position on immigration. He almost seems to have one policy for London (more immigration is a good thing) and a more restrictive policy for the rest of the UK. All that can be said with confidence is that he's more liberal than most Tory voters on this toxic topic.

I have one big worry and one big hope about Boris:

  • My worry is that he likes to be liked a little too much. I worry that he hasn't taken really tough decisions since he became Mayor. He has never confronted Bob Crow's transport unions and the perks and generous pensions they enjoy. He has three years of his second term in which he can still do this but time is running out.
  • My big hope is that if he was ever to become PM he'd be able to ally himself with the Class of 2010 and the other recent intakes of Tory MPs who combine streetwise campaigning, Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism and Lady Thatcher's instinct for supply-side reform. It could be an ideal partnership - Boris' winning personality and the Tory parliamentary's party's one nation Thatcherism.


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