Boris Johnson's got the same problem all the Tories have

He's still the most charismatic politician in Britain. But if Conservatives are going ever so slightly cooler on Boris Johnson it's probably because he lacks what they all yearn for -- a coherent vision

by Yorker on 1 October 2013 13:31

In the corridors of powerlessness -- that's the rank and file at the Conservative Party conference; the media, and the Tory backbenches -- there's a whiff of anti-climax about London Mayor Boris Johnson at the moment. To be sure, he's still the most charismatic British politician of any party affiliation. But all the talk is that he's neither attracting nor wowing the crowds in the way that he used to.

That conclusion is pretty much being drawn due to the way he has been received at Conference -- enthusiastically, yes, but somewhat more reservedly than past form might have suggested.

In truth, the decline of Boris mania should have been foreseen. If charisma is pretty well all that you're offering, it will inevitably wear off given time. But there's a deeper truth here, and it is a truth that applies to British Conservatism generally: Boris doesn't have a vision.

Now let me be clear: he does have vision in the sense that he constantly looks forward to a successful, vibrant future for a country that he clearly loves. But having vision and having a vision, are two different things, though it is not certain many senior Conservatives know the difference.

Conservatism in the UK is in crisis. The party hasn't won a parliamentary majority for more than 20 years, an entire generation. There is no sign whatsoever that that trend will be bucked in 2015. More importantly, the political right in Britain has been on the backfoot ideologically for even longer. Political society is saturated with the precepts of the liberal-Left.

I asked some pretty smart and politically savvy friends if they could tell me what Boris Johnson, or David Cameron or most other senior Tories actually believed in. Did they have a set of core ideas? Was there any sense of joined up thinking? Blank faces all around.

Tradional Conservatives might make a stab at a counter-argument: the whole point of Conservatism is that it isn't ideological, they may retort. It bases itself in tradition, streams of thought and value rather than blue-prints for the future. Fair enough, but only if the modern Conservative Party was in any way traditionally Conservative, which it isn't.

No wonder then, that we're back to what Keith Joseph once upon a time referred to as the "ratchet effect". This time it doesn't exactly represent a racheting forward via ever greater compromises with big state welfarism, though it may be that too. More importantly, the ratchet is cultural. Domestically, it defers and defaults to the liberal-Left centre-ground; internationally it defers and defaults to defeatism and UN-style multi-lateralism.

In the end, Boris Johnson, like David Cameron, is a good guy. But good guys are not what Conservatism in Britain needs right now. What Conservatives need is conviction, strength, and something solid to believe in. If Boris can provide that, he'll be the party and the country's saviour. If he can't, it'll just be good old Boris, for as long as people are still interested....

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