Boris Johnson for No 10? The arguments for and against any move to Downing Street

New revelations about the London Mayor's private life haven't dented his popularity, but could he do the top job? As a new book hails his 'wit and wisdom', biographers Andrew Gimson (for) squares up to Sonia Purnell (against)

Dear Sonia

When Boris Johnson ran for Mayor of London, he was dismissed by his critics as a clown, but he disappointed the doom-mongers by finding serious people, notably Sir Simon Milton, to help him run City Hall. If Boris becomes prime minister, he will once again be determined not to fall flat on his face and will appoint people of the highest ability to assist him. Success will be made more likely by the calibre of those around him. Boris is so confident of his own intellect that he has no fear of appointing others of high intelligence; and they in turn enjoy working for him, not just because he makes jokes, but because with great rapidity he understands what they are trying to tell him.


Dear Andrew

I agree it was misguided to dismiss Johnson as a clown. He has proved himself adept, driven and deadly serious – but less about London's future prospects than powering ahead with his own ambitions to be prime minister. The mayoralty has been a career-saver for him after in effect failing as an MP, and has been brilliantly exploited to develop his cult of personality. From the start, though, there was little focus on building up a top-level team around him. So far among his senior aides: two now have criminal convictions; one resigned over a spurious CV; one resigned over allegedly racist remarks; another over a turf war; yet another recently apologised after being accused of groping a woman in a lift.


Dear Sonia

As you contemplate the iniquities committed by some of Boris's staff, a censorious note enters your voice. These appointments mostly occurred at the start of his mayoralty, when he arrived without a team of people whom he already knew and trusted. Boris did not set up a chumocracy. He took a generous view of the abilities of people from backgrounds quite different to his own. This is one reason why he appeals so strongly to Labour voters. They sense that he is not a narrow-minded puritan who wants to control everything, but a man of wide sympathies who wishes us to enjoy ourselves. Such characteristics might help him to unite people behind disagreeable but necessary reforms.


Dear Andrew

I just want my elected leaders to be competent and to choose competent teams from the off. In times like these we need more than just fun, although I'm certainly not advocating too much unnecessary gloom. Johnson is a genius at popularity. What he needs to do now is use it for the greater good in the city he runs rather than for the job he wants. So far his career has been more about words than deeds. It's not good enough to be the fun guy at the Olympics; we need someone to deal with the everyday tough stuff too.


Dear Sonia

Underlying your profound antipathy towards Boris is a constricted idea of politics. As prime minister, one has to make judgements on issues for which the managerial virtue of "competence" is an inadequate guide. Should we send British forces to fight and die alongside our American allies? Should we leave the European Union? Would it be better to form a minority government or to do a deal with Nigel Farage? Boris might get any or all of these wrong. But a leader needs the courage and breadth of vision to contemplate actions which a conscientious administrator would regard as too risky: building a new airport; commissioning a new double-decker bus with an open platform; ridiculing the man who might be the next American president when he has the impertinence to question whether London is ready for the Games.


Dear Andrew

Last week, the Court of Appeal found that Johnson was so "reckless" in his attitude to others in the way he conducted his affairs with other women that the question of whether he was actually fit to hold public office was of overriding public interest. Three of Britain's most senior judges were clearly of the mind that his personal and professional judgement was impaired by this extraordinary recklessness over the consequences of his actions. As one QC explained it to me, their lordships would never have come to the conclusion that it was right for the media to report on his love child had they not been "shocked" at his conduct.


Dear Sonia

This is sad stuff. Do you believe that anyone who commits adultery is unfit to hold high office, or only those who are "reckless" when doing so? And must we defer to the judiciary for a definition of recklessness? By the Purnell test, Clinton would have been deprived of the presidency, Lloyd George barred from taking over as prime minister in 1916 and Nelson considered unfit to fight the Battle of Trafalgar. In a prurient age, we shall often know about the private adventures of public figures. But it is for voters, not for judges, journalists or biographers, to decide whether those adventures have any bearing on fitness for high office. Voters tend to be more relaxed, and also more realistic, than judges. As for the question of whether there is "a coherent corpus of Johnsonian ideas" on subjects such as Europe: Boris is certainly less coherent than Enoch Powell, but David Cameron and Ed Miliband fail that test too, and Powell was too inflexible to be prime minister in any circumstances short of war. To be coherent about Europe might render one incapable of making the compromises that are required to defend the national interest. Boris believes in fierce competition, but not in grinding the faces of the poor. He is a Merry England Conservative: an elitist who is not an ideologue and who possesses an unexpected gift for connecting with people and sharing their vulnerabilities.


Dear Andrew

The court's point was not about affairs but about Johnson's recklessness about the multiple pregnancies and consequent heartache caused to others. In this way he differs from the other sexual adventurers you mention and in an age when pregnancy is easily avoidable. These women and his illegitimate daughter have seen their lives shredded by Johnson, not to mention the effect of his duplicity and selfishness on his four children with his wife Marina. These are not jolly japes when it is clear that so many women, their partners and, above all, children are so badly hurt as the judges ruled in court. You're right on one count. That is sad. It is certainly not merry to have an abortion. The one policy on which Johnson has been consistent has been cutting the top rate of tax. He has benefited personally from that while boasting that he was so comfortably off already that he was able to spend his old child benefit payments on luxury safaris. How does that connect with the poor or even middle earners? He has raised transport fares in London to the highest in the world – which has a disproportionate impact on the poor. At the same time, he has ploughed millions of our money into vanity projects like the loss-making cable car. There are no big ideas or even many viable small ones. With all that education and supposed brain power, his mayoralty has been, for all his grandstanding at the Olympics, a fallow one. The chief beneficiary has been Johnson himself.


Sonia Purnell is the author of 'Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition'. Andrew Gimson is a contributing editor to ConservativeHome and author of 'Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson'

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