Boris is a brand: the Conservative Party’s best
A few weeks ago, Michael Gove said that today’s Mayoral election was not about Boris Johnson vs Ken Livingstone; it was not about trivial things like human personalities, but the direction of British politics for the next three years. If the Conservatives win, he averred, it will be a springboard to victory in 2015; if Labour wins, he mused, Ed Miliband will be immeasurably strengthened and consequently insufferable.
It’s not often that this blog disagrees with Michael Gove, but on this point it most certainly does. Today’s Mayoral election is very much about characters, temperaments and personalities. Frankly, the policy debate has been muted, and even ardent political anoraks would be hard-pressed to summarise the candidates’ manifesto pledges.
Boris is ahead in the polls today for one principal reason: he is popular among non-Tories. Ken Livingstone is not even popular among Labour supporters, let alone wavering Tories and LibDems. The Greens have endorsed him, and by so doing have shown themselves to be completely unconcerned with the environmental priorities they profess, for Boris is by far the greener of the two.
But this isn’t a battle of political ideology: it isn’t even about ‘Boris bikes’, bendy buses, Crossrail or council tax. All of these Boris success stories are subsumed to his endearing charisma and his blond mop: Boris is a brand, a logo, a trademark; he is a distinct product identity. He transcends the tedium of politics, and dances dynamically in realms unattainable by other politicians. Here we are, in the wake of a disastrous Tory budget, a plethora of U-turns, unemployment rising, EU encroaching, gripped by double-dip recession, Leveson droning on and on, with Abu Qatada still dwelling among us. And Boris is the only Tory whose approval rating is on the up.
Boris is a cohesive force for good; an explosion of exuberant optimism. His presence is light; his persona brings joy. Ken Livingstone, on the other hand, is negative, dull and divisive. His mantra is anti-Semitic; his hypocrisy on tax avoidance has been laid bare. Boris talks about London and Londoners: Ken Livingstone talks interminably about Jews, Muslims, Gays and the need to make London ‘a beacon for Islam’. Boris is trusted and trustworthy; Ken Livingstone is neither. How many Conservative Party members, peers, MPs, columnists and bloggers have voiced their opposition to Boris? Is there one? And how many Labour Party members, peers, MPs, columnists and bloggers have been vociferous in opposing Ken Livingstone? Google it. But Lord Sugar summarised the consensus on Twitter: ‘NO-ONE vote for Livingstone… Livingstone must NOT get in on May 3.’
Ken Livingstone’s brand of sectarian socialism is outdated and otiose: he is as bankrupt intellectually as his party bankrupted the Treasury. Boris represents a strand of conservatism which remains vibrant and appealing, with a focus on law and order, defence, patriotism, immigration, over-regulation, tax reduction, and support for private enterprise. And he wants a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. He has little time for Guardianistas, and yet they love him. He doesn’t fit in with David Cameron’s Notting Hill clique, and yet they welcome him. Boris spans ideological gulfs, builds bridges across chasms, and is comfortable exploring the unfamiliar wastelands long ago abandoned by the Conservative Party. How many Tories have ever triumphed in Dagenham? He is Eton and Oxford, and relaxed about it. He is metropolitan and bourgeois, and revels in it. Today he must be re-elected simply because he is the best candidate to run London; he is a force for good in politics. And God forbid that the opening ceremony of the XXX Olympiad should be presided over by Ken Livingstone.