And who else could be the Tory candidate?
NB This necessarily-long article was written before this story broke this evening. How better to avoid running again than to resign over a fight with Cameron about cuts?
When I last wrote about the 2010 London Mayoral election in May 2009 (smugly noting my bet on Oona King at 100/1 with Ladbrokes), I suggested that the main value in the market was likely to be found in the Conservative options. Other than Boris, almost no serious Conservatives were listed, which seemed interesting to me for two reasons: firstly, because the Tories have struggled to find a candidate on all three occasions (thus Stephen Norris chosen twice, and Sir John Major refusing before Boris rescued them in 2008), but secondly because I don’t think Boris will necessarily run.
I have read the news stories about him committing to run again (though what sitting politician with half a term left wouldn’t claim to be running again, just to avoid lame duck paralysis?), but I’m not sold. Not only because he didn’t really seem to want the job the first time around, but also because I can’t see how running in 2012 helps him become Prime Minister (which he is rumoured to desperately want). In fact, I think a second term as Mayor seriously hobbles him.
I’m not talking about political cost of being in office. You could offset â€œbeing the face of Tory cuts in Londonâ€ against â€œbeing the global face of the 2012 Olympic Gamesâ€ and call it 6/5-and-pick’em, but I still don’t see how being Mayor doesn’t scupper Boris’ vaunted ambitions from a much more practical perspective: Timing and Opportunity.
There are four possible things that can happen here, helpfully named after 4 US Presidents:
LYNDON JOHNSON OPTION Boris chooses not to run for a second term as Mayor
RICHARD NIXON OPTION Boris runs and wins, but doesn’t finish his second term
JIMMY CARTER OPTION Boris runs, but loses to Ken/Oona/other
RONALD REAGAN OPTION Boris runs and wins, and serves the full second term
Let’s assume the following: that Boris wants to become PM, that General Elections will take place approximately every 4/5 years (as they have done since 1974), and that leaders defeated in General Elections don’t get to stay as leader. How do these four options play out for Boris?
LYNDON JOHNSON OPTION â€“ Boris retires as Mayor undefeated in 2012. He would likely be elected as an MP, at the very latest, by the General Election expected 2015. If the election is earlier, or a handy by-election is called, he could be back on the green benches before then. Even if a ‘new’ MP in 2015, he would be expected to be at least a Whip/Minister, if not full front bench.
If the Conservatives are in Government still (having win the 2015 GE) then, he could expect to be well-positioned (front bench or just short) by Cameron’s expected exit date (probably 2018/19, unless he wants to go on as long as Blair and Thatcher). This would be an election of the PM by the Conservative Party. Boris’ best chance to be PM would be within the decade, with him still in his mid-fifties.
If the Conservatives are in Opposition after the 2015 GE, then he would probably benefit in getting a big front bench job (plenty of room, as there’s no Coalition in Opposition!) in the absence of David Cameron (deposed as leader for never winning an overall majority). Indeed, Boris could even run for leader immediately upon being elected â€“ his previous service as an MP and Shadow Minister, and as the holder of a significant executive office to match even Osborne or Hague. If Leader of the Opposition in 2015, he could realistically be PM by 2020 â€“ again, within the decade.
What is true for the JOHNSON option is actually no less true in the CARTER and NIXON options. Both of these eventualities (Boris losing in 2012 or winning but not completing his second term) would allow him to enter the Commons by 2015, but under different circumstances.
As a CARTER, he would carry the burden of a personalised defeat from the UK’s biggest electorate, and would be much less likely to appeal to the national party as a major election winner. I think losing London would kill his chances of ever becoming PM. Under the NIXON model, he would have to succeed where Sarah Palin has not â€“ giving a justifiable reason for resigning from elected office before the end of term. Leaving for a Parliamentary by-election (which is what it would be) would not sit well, especially as it would leave London in the hands of an unelected Deputy Mayor for at least a year. It would suggest the abandoning of responsibility, even fecklessness, and again probably rule out him taking over the leadership of the national Conservative Party from Cameron.
The fourth option plays out very differently. The REAGAN option would see Boris re-elected as Mayor, and serving until May 2016. He would miss the next General Election in 2015, and would either need a convenient by-election (in, say, 2018) or would have to wait until the General Election in about 2020 to become an MP again.
Various permutations affect his REAGAN path to Downing Street:
- Boris wins 2018 by-election, Tories are still in power, Cameron still PM (but going soon)
- Boris wins 2018 by-election, Tories are still in power, but new PM
- Boris wins 2018 by-election, Tories in Opposition, new leader served since 2015
- Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (government) win with Cameron
- Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (government) win with new PM
- Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (government) lose
- Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (opposition) win with new PM
- Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (opposition) lose
(Scenarios 3, 7, & 8 presume Tories lost the 2015 General Election. Again, assuming GE every 4 or 5 years, losing leaders always resign, PMs serve about 8 years on average.)
Of these various scenarios, which lend themselves to Boris attaining the leadership of his party, and then the Premiership in a reasonable time frame? They can be grouped:
|PERMUTATIONS 1& 4||Cameron is PM, but about to go. Boris becomes senior Cabinet minister and challenges when Cameron chooses to step down. Boris could be PM by 2022, at the end of a Conservative 3rd term.|
|PERMUTATION 2||If New PM wins 3rd Conservative term in 2020, Boris might get to snatch a year or so as PM before the 2025 General Election, or if new PM goes during 4th term. If the New PM loses in 2020, leadership election and Boris seeks to be PM at 2025 General Election, facing first term Labour PM.|
|PERMUTATIONS 3 & 8||Tories led by post-Cameron Leader of the Opposition. 2020 General Election is lost, so Boris stands for leadership, and runs in 2025 GE â€“ becoming PM if he beats first term Labour PM.|
|PERMUTATIONS 5 & 7||New Conservative PM would mean no leadership election until after 2025 GE. If the new PM won that, Boris would be looking to inherit by around 2029 at the earliest (end of 4th term). If the new PM lost in 2025, Boris would be seeking leadership in 2025 in Opposition, so could become PM by 2029 at the earliest again|
The REAGAN option (running, winning, serving as Mayor until 2016) suggests that he would not be able to become PM until 2025 at the very earliest (by beating a first term Labour PM), and more likely around 2030. Even the earlier possibilities imply that he takes over the Premiership (as did Brown and Major) at the tail end of a 3rd or 4th term Tory government. Is this really what he wants? Pending ignominious defeat at a General Election?
The CARTER, NIXON and JOHNSON options all suggest he could be PM before 2020 â€“ although the CARTER and NIXON options mean he is handicapped by having either lost a Mayoral election, or having abandoned his elected post before finishing his term. This is 10-15 years earlier than under the REAGAN model. Is Boris a patient man?
Two other factors: Boris is in his mid-forties at present. We haven’t had a Prime Minister elected in their 60s since Thatcher in 1987. I don’t think he has more than 15 years to get the top job, and (with respect to the present Cabinet) he stands a much better chance now â€“ Hague has already been leader, and I could only see him being so again if Cameron were to depart suddenly. Osborne, Gove, and May are not obvious leadership material. Clarke won’t lose a fifth time, and Fox is too right-wing. This is an open field, with potential contenders blocked from top jobs by the LibDems. The new Tory cohort are overwhelmingly first time MPs, but they will have matured in 15 years’ time. If Boris wants to win the leadership easily, the sooner the better.
Then consider that winning re-election, with all the risk of the CARTER option if he loses, will not be easy. Boris won the Mayoralty when the Tories were 20-points ahead in national polls. He won by 6-points. If the government’s cuts start to bite by 2012, I wouldn’t want to be facing re-election as Mayor of London, when I don’t even want the job that is delaying my return to Parliament.
Nothing I’m saying here is radical, and I’m sure these debates have been played out in Boris’ head many times before. He may feel committed to running again, in which case he will either be a CARTER, a NIXON, or a REAGAN â€“ but if I were him, and wanted to be PM, I’d be a JOHNSON.
PS If not Boris, then who runs for Mayor on the Tory ticket in 2012? I have James Cleverly at very long odds, but there is one obvious choice again Ken/Oona.
In 2008, before Boris was chosen to take on Ken, and before Brian Paddick had been selected for the Lib Dems, a rumour broke that the Tories had approached Greg Dyke â€“ a former Labour donor who had lost his job as Director General of the BBC over the Hutton Report. He was prepared to run against Ken (it was reported), but only if the Lib Dems would also endorse him as a joint candidate. Ming Campbell apparently flat-out refused. A Tory-LibDem joint candidate? Madness!
Now Ming has gone, there is a Tory-LibDem coalition seated around the Cabinet Table, and Greg Dyke’s last appearance in the political news was agreeing to act as an advisor for the Conservative Party. Former-leftwinger, businessman and millionaire, good public speaker, beloved-of-the-BBC: I’d give him a good chance against Ken, and if it were Oona King, do you think the legality of the Iraq War might come up as a wedge issue?