Any politician who has not yet stated their position on Brexit is politically calculating, not genuinely agnostic, and forfeits the right to call themselves a leader. Iain Dale makes the short and convincing case that Boris Johnson is a man of absolutely no conviction on the most important issue of the day, and that consequently he should not be looked up to as a potential Conservative Party leader or prime minister.
Potential prime ministers need to be leaders, not followers. The fact that we won’t find out until today which side of the EU argument Boris Johnson will fall down on says a lot. We all know that he’s not a genuine Eurosceptic, so for him to continue to flirt with the Leave campaign tells us much about his political calculation.
I still think he will ally himself to the Prime Minister in the end, but let’s assume he doesn’t. Does anyone believe that such a move would be fired by genuine political conviction? Of course not.
In such circumstances, he will have calculated that if he becomes the de facto public face of the Leave campaign and that Britain then votes for Brexit, David Cameron would have no alternative but to resign – and that he himself would become party leader by acclamation.
Such a calculation may be right. But it would make Frank Underwood and Francis Urquhart look like amateurs. Some people may think that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I think it would stink.
Meanwhile, the Independent breathlessly “war-games” all of the possible outcomes, focusing on the most important thing in this entire EU referendum debate – the consequences for Boris Johnson’s precious career:
It’s decision time for Boris. Having spent months – if not years – teasing David Cameron (and the rest of us) as to whether he is an ‘outer’ or an ‘inner’ the time is fast approaching when the Mayor of London and possible future Tory leader (and Prime Minister) will have to make up his mind which side he is going to back in the EU Referendum.
Boris calls for Brexit – but the country says we want to stay.
This would be the worst of all worlds for Johnson’s burning ambition. He would have staked his reputation on a ‘leave’ vote and been rejected by the voters. He would be punished by Cameron and left to languish on the backbenches. His electoral mystique would be shattered and his chances of succeeding Cameron would disappear. Johnson knows this – and that is why he is so reluctant to take such a big risk and nail his colours to Brexit.
No, the time for Boris Johnson to make up his mind is not “fast approaching”. That time is now a rapidly-shrinking dot in the rear-view mirror.
Boris Johnson apparently aspires to lead the country. Real leaders (not that we have seen one in awhile) set out their vision and inspire, persuade, cajole or threaten their followers to march on toward their chosen destination. They do not wait to see which direction the majority of their flock split before sprinting to the front of the column and pretending to have been leading them all along. They do not skulk quietly at the back, grinning and flirting with both sides of an existential debate and hedging their bets until the last possible moment.
For a biographer and self-professed admirer of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson is almost singularly lacking in any of the key qualities of our great wartime leader. Winston Churchill endured many years in the political wilderness due to the unpopularity of his political beliefs – beliefs which he expressed loudly and eloquently, whether they were right or wrong, wildly popular or deeply unfashionable. Churchill did not hedge his bets by making ambivalent noises about Nazi Germany’s re-armament in the 1930s – he railed against Hitler and strongly opposed the policy of appeasement, at a time when many in the country preferred to bury their heads in the sand and avoid facing reality.
Boris Johnson, by contrast, puts his own career first, second and third. And if he does have strong feelings one way or another about Britain’s membership of the EU, they are firmly subordinate to his concern for his own personal advancement. Yet he gets a free pass from the media on account of his bumbling persona and the fact that he is endless quotable, even when (as is nearly always the case) he is actually saying absolutely nothing of any importance or lasting value.
We have had leaders who care primarily about their public image and personal career advancement before. We have one now. Boris Johnson would just take this trend to its logical conclusion: the pursuit and holding of power as the first and only objective, with any core principle liable to be cast aside if doing so will help to shore up the incoherent centrist coalition of a support base – support which may be a mile wide but only an inch deep, as Tim Montgomerie warned on his recent departure from the Conservative Party.
Richard North says it best when it comes to the media’s obsession with Boris Johnson’s conspicuous fence-sitting:
Having to contend with this obsession, I have advanced, is like being a policeman attending a multiple car pile-up while a passer-by attempts to talk to him about their pet hamster.
If and when Boris Johnson finds it within himself to act like a leader, we should reconsider giving him the time of day. But so long as he continues to act in such a nakedly self-serving and principle-free way, the media should stop reporting on Boris’s dithering and start holding to account those people who actually have the courage to publicly declare their positions.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty