Exit stage left: How persuasive is Boris’s attempt at radical rebranding?

The class clown's services as a morale-booster are now far less in demand for the Tories

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When everybody is smiling, who needs a clown? It had – before the general election – been one of Boris Johnson’s many jobs to fluff up Conservative morale; tickling a party conference here, roaring through a meet-and-greet there. Now his services are less in demand. If Tories want cheering up, all they need to do is reflect on their majority, or glance at the Labour leadership contest.

That leaves poor Boris at a loss. His bid to become the next Conservative leader has faltered. George Osborne and Theresa May have risen with the fortunes of their party, the former in particular floating into his holidays on the back of a post-Budget bump in support. May elbowed Boris further down the pecking order by barring the use of the water cannon her rival splurged on. Tacking to the left appears to be Boris’s comeback strategy. In a speech to the Centre for Social Justice yesterday, he set out his stall as the Conservative who would do most to tackle inequality, railing against the gap between executive and employee pay. The hint of Jeremy Corbyn comes as no accident. Boris said it would be “complacent and wrong” to ignore Corbyn’s analysis of the failings in British society.

Perhaps, but while this paper applauds Boris’s intention to build more houses and pay fairer wages, taking a leaf out of Corbyn’s book is unlikely to pave his path back into party favour. From the living wage to non-doms, Osborne has already made a land grab on the left’s most popular policies. Moving the party further in that direction may strike Conservative MPs and activists as needlessly radical. Why rock the boat? Unhappy parties vote for outliers: happy ones cleave to the status quo. Lucky for Corbyn, less so for Boris.