Boris zoinks off the Geiger counter of popularity, sure – but not because he’s a pragmatist

Being naturally skeptical of the state is a crucial conservative tradition that must be upheld

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Boris hails the London Olympic bid victory
On 30 July 2012 11:09

This weekend, between catching up with the domestic chores and being trolled by Owen Jones and his army of swellheaded, troglodytic Twitter followers, I found a moment to feature on the Jack Abramoff radio show and discuss the politics of the Olympic opening ceremony.

I commented, as Tim Montgomerie acknowledges in his Times article today (£), that the kudos for the success of the opening ceremony and the Olympics, would mostly be absorbed by the Mayor’s office – with Boris Johnson receiving a post-Olympic bump in the polls, all things going well.

But Boris’s popularity has eluded most commentators on the Right and the Left. Like Zara Phillips, most strategists falter early on in their canter when seeking to analyse the magic of the London Mayor.

Tim comes closer today, but falls at an important hurdle when juxtaposing the Mayor’s acceptance of modern Britain with his ‘rock star’ popularity.

Plainly, Boris isn’t popular because he doesn’t mind presiding over major government projects or shedding a tear at a pair of smooching lesbians (although there may be something in that). Rather, the Mayor appears effortlessly famous because he is just that – famous.

When the British public thinks of BoJo, they don’t see the Mayor or the former Member of Parliament. They definitely don’t see a future Prime Minister. They see their favourite Have I Got News For You presenter. The reception afforded to Boris in Hyde Park on Friday evening was less Frederick and more Bruce Forsyth for that very reason.

He doesn’t exude politics – he transcends it.

Which leads me to another bone I have to pick with Tim today. This weekend, David Willetts, delivering a speech that Tim echoes in his Times column, addressed the ‘Bright Blue’ conference in London.

Not exactly known for its staunch conservative credentials, Bright Blue’s tagline on its website is “Progressive > Conservative”.

Willets and Montgomerie argue for "embracing the state" – something I would genuinely think twice about even if my life depended on it – and which, following a recent operation, I very much had to. For the removal of doubt, I went private.

Montgomerie argues, “Making peace with the NHS, the welfare state and the State’s role in delivering big projects does not equal surrender”. But when so many great conservative thinkers (the best, actually) have railed against such Leftist traditions – what exactly are we doing if not capitulating to these long standing socialist principles?

And lest we forget these are indeed socialist principles – not simply "progressive" or "modern" as those who have worked so hard to alter the political vernacular would have us believe.

The welfare state, the National Health Service and burdensome government projects are programmes that, in their original form, should have been long condemned to the scrap heap of history.

Should we have a healthcare system that somehow caters to those who, through no fault of their own, cannot afford to cover themselves? Sure.

Should we have a monolithic, monopolistic, inefficient Leviathan dominating and distorting the market in this area? Most certainly not.

The reasons are multifarious and can be found across much conservative literature, including Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell’s ‘The Plan’. For the Lefties that will inevitably read this and shriek, Privatisation!” – Yes. Quite. With the aim of providing a more cost effective service for those who need it most. Quelle horreur!

No right-headed person could sit here and argue that there should be no state whatsoever – anarchism is not conservatism. But over the last century, public spending has risen from around 12 percent of GDP to almost 50 percent.

Yes, Britain is now more densely populated and we have significant commitments that we didn’t have previously. There are implications of all these things.

But it is a crucial conservative position to argue that the growth of the state must, at the very most, be proportionate to the growth of the economy – a theory which these figures undermines, and which the NHS, the welfare state and our ring-fenced aid budget are key contributing factors toward.

If we cannot summon up the courage to tackle the black hole behemoths of public spending, we shall never truly come to grips with our national debt, with the cyclical nature of Labour’s tax-and-spend followed by ‘nasty ideological cuts’.

Tim Montgomerie seems happy with the status quo while the Left keep pushing their agenda further along. Instead of simply rolling back the state to pre-Labour, we should seek to continuously roll back the state wherever and whenever this can be responsibly achieved.

If not, come 2015 or beyond, the trade unions will have their tentacles back in government, and by 2025 we’ll be back in the same mess. It’s true, Tim – you know it. 

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator and tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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