James Forsyth

How far could Boris go?

How far could Boris go?
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At Tory conference a bunch of candidates got together for supper. The conversation turned, as it so often does on these occasions, to who might be the next leader. One candidate was advancing the case for Boris with some gusto, until another interrupted saying, ‘can you imagine Boris representing Britain at the Security Council.’ The table agreed that they couldn’t and so the conversation moved on.

Certainly, this perceived lack of seriousness will be Boris’s biggest problem in going further than Mayor of London. Cameron had a point when he said that Boris was stuck in a buffoonish rut from which he would find it hard to escape. But if Boris can win re-election he will have enough of time to establish a record which demonstrates a certain level of competence. If the Olympics go smoothly, Boris will be able to point to a major project that he has pulled off.

Boris and his allies have no plan to make him PM. But then again, there was no plan for him to become Mayor of London. Rather the opportunity presented itself and he took it. We know that Boris wants to return to the Commons after he has served a second term as mayor, and it is hard to imagine that if the leadership became open when Boris was as an MP that he wouldn’t go for it. He wouldn’t be able to resist the opportunity.

The fear of those Tories who think that Boris would be a disaster as leader is that if he made it in to the vote of the party members he would beat whoever stood against him; Boris already has higher approval ratings among Tory activists than Cameron. So, the theory goes that, Boris would have to be stopped in the parliamentary party balloting.

Most sitting Tory MPs do not have a particularly high opinion of him. One who is more sympathetic to him than most, described him to me as a ‘British Berlusconi. But the decisive factor in any ballot of the Tory parliamentary party for some time to come will be the 2010 intake. So, the crucial thing to watch is what this new class of Tory MPs make of the mayor.

I’d still be surprised if Boris ever became Tory party leader. One wonders what would happen to him when the press started treating him as a possible PM rather than someone who adds some much needed excitement to the political scene. But if he wins re-election and returns to the Commons, he would be a formidable figure.