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When contemplating the contrasting approaches of the Labour and Conservative parties to the hiring and firing of their leaders, it helps to think in terms of the differences between the public and private sectors. For most of its history, Labour has tended to adopt a public sector approach borrowed from trade unions who would rather see an enterprise fail than allow any employee involved to be sacked. Even if the leader is struggling very badly and everyone knows it, especially the voters, the talk in public by those representing the party will be of "scope for improvement" and of the impossibility of removal because the procedures do not allow it. This can go on for years. At the time of writing Ed Miliband was still in post as Labour leader on that basis.


Boris Johnson: His self-alignment with Churchill is shameless and blatant (Illustration by Michael Daley)

In contrast, the attitude of the Tory tribe to these matters is much more ruthless and less sentimental. The rules of the private sector apply. Once confidence in the chief executive is gone there is usually no point hanging about. The incumbent gets the equivalent of a visit from the HR manager in a City or industrial firm and before he or she knows it they find themselves outside on the pavement metaphorically clutching a box containing their work-related belongings, having had their security pass removed on the way out the door.

David Cameron will seek to avoid such a humiliating fate when the time comes, but when it is time to go it will be time to go. Of course, his supporters continue to insist that this will not happen any time soon as there will not be a vacancy for several years. But talk to Tory MPs and they are limbering up for a leadership contest. It could happen next summer if the craziest general election since the 1970s produces a chaotic outcome in which the Tories are the second largest party in the Commons.

Even if Cameron wins the election and remains as Prime Minister, his MPs know that he is not temperamentally inclined to go on and on and on. A wealthy and comfortable existence after Number 10 beckons. And unlike Tony Blair, who is condemned to traverse the globe forever, becoming richer and looking more haunted by the month, Cameron's lot will be contentment. After he leaves office expect him to retreat into England to a very nice house with plenty of scope for "chillaxing" and sitting under a tree in the garden reading the novels of Ian Fleming, a favourite pursuit. Anyway, by the summer of 2015 he will have been leader of his party for almost a decade and Prime Minister for five, with anything beyond that a bonus. For someone who sees the job of Prime Minister in terms of steering the ship of state it will be job done.

As Cameron is not a power-hungry paranoiac, the Tories are not fizzing with thoughts of immediate regicide. They are merely behaving in accordance with the reality that he is probably at least three-quarters of the way, and perhaps nine-tenths, through his leadership. Who, they whisper, will succeed him and what might be the winning message?

Boris Johnson thinks he knows the answer. Here is someone so convinced that he is a man of destiny that he has spent his spare time writing a new biography of Winston Churchill. The implication is that in his party and country's hour of need, with British politics in crisis and the old party system in meltdown, Boris will be ready. Cometh the hour, cometh the great man, or at least that is the theory.

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sd goh
December 1st, 2014
1:12 PM
The free world owes it to Churchill, despite his shortcomings -- in particular his egomania -- was the only leader who, unlike the appeasers, could sense the immortal danger that Hitler posed. I read it somewhere (David Cannadine's History in our Time, I think), Robert Boothby's remark that "Winston was a shit; but we needed a shit to beat Hitler."

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