There are not many people where a birthday greeting with just a Christian name would ensure the vast majority worldwide knew precisely who was celebrating his birthday but, when the greeting is “Happy birthday, Boris” there can be few who would not realise that the Mayor of London and the ex-MP for Henley is another year older and, almost certainly deeper in debt ….. as the song goes …..
So, congratulations, Boris, on another year. If my calculations are right, I think you are one year short of your half century. With longevity on the up, at least in the western world, you might think of your fiftieth year as the mid-point of your potential five score years. You might, therefore be dividing your reflections between achievements to date and “what next”?
I first met you over dinner at the Carlton Club when you were the candidate for Michael Heseltine’s seat in Henley. There was never any doubt you would hold the seat but I wondered how you would get on with Henley’s Conservatives. They had been in awe of Hezzer and largely supportive of his pro-European stance. I suspected you might struggle to win hearts and minds as a newcomer to the area and of a more Euro-sceptic view. However, you coped; you even thrived and had most of them eating out of your hand.
Seven years later, the London Mayoralty beckoned and you could not resist the challenge. You resigned the Henley seat and created a wonderful opportunity for John Howell, who had served in my County Council cabinet from 2005 and therefore had a first class training in political management. John was selected as the candidate for Henley and, to no-one’s surprise, romped home in 2008. At about the same time, you gave Ken Livingstone a thrashing and became Mayor of London.
London is not a huge brief for an ambitious politician. You have 32 London boroughs plus the City of London, all itching to tell you to take your tanks off their lawns. There is a huge difference between inner and outer London, not to forget the imperial extravagance of the Corporation of the City of London! Your area of influence is transport and your delivery vehicle is Transport for London to whom we all pay our congestion charges. Despite a narrow policy brief, you have made your mark in London transport with a tube that seems to work pretty well most of the time; with Routemaster buses making their return as the dreaded bendy-buses are phased out and you have the Barclays-sponsored bicycles. Not that I have tried any of these forms of public transport but I hear good reports on them all!
So, Boris, where next? Your term as London Mayor continues to 2016 which is inconvenient when the General Election will be held in 2015. I don’t doubt you have ambitions to be Prime Minister, Boris. Will you succeed and will you make a good PM? On the first question, I suspect many Conservative Party members would support your candidacy, hopefully preferring you to Nigel Farrage if they were given the choice. You have many of his redeeming characteristics without his downsides. However, I am less sure you would have the support of the Party hierarchy; you are too charismatic; too unpredictable; too full of fun. Theresa May will die in a ditch or anywhere to stop you dead in your tracks and I am sure that worries you greatly!
However, the jury is still out; both on whether you will take the top slot and, if you do, how successful you will be. For myself, Boris, I am a great fan and we have had some laughs from time to time but I have to say I am not sure if you would manage the top job. Different as you are, I think you bear comparison with Heseltine. He was a masterful communicator; a brilliant number two but I think he would have been a disaster as a number one. Think of that episode with the mace; think of the Westland affair; think of his immoveable support for a deepening and widening European super state; think about his dismissal of local government. I am not sure if you have the strength of character to climb that mountain to the top job and to stay there through all of the vicissitudes of fortune. A Boris as Mayor of London is one thing; a Boris as the leader of the British nation is a different one. Too many people may see you as the joker.