The Mayor has amused residents of the capital—and earned their respectby Peter Kellner / November 13, 2014 / Leave a comment
I offer no apologies for discussing Boris Johnson’s prospects for the second time this year. Now he has been selected to fight the safe Conservative seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in May’s general election, his chances of becoming the next Conservative leader have risen sharply. Under party rules, MPs will choose the two finalists, and local party members then decide between them.
If Boris is a finalist, local activists are virtually certain to elect him. The only way he won’t become leader, whenever David Cameron departs, will be for Tory MPs to ensure that two of their colleagues come out ahead of him.
Last time, I explored Boris’s national image. This time we look at the verdict of Londoners whose city he has run, or at least presided over, for the past six years. That verdict is overwhelmingly positive. Six out of 10 says he has done well; just one in three says badly. Any national politician would dance naked down Downing Street for ratings like that. And remember, London is a Labour city. Boris is popular because he is that rare politician who appeals to huge numbers of people beyond his own party. As well as being well regarded by 91 per cent of Conservative voters, he is also thought to do well by 77 per cent of Liberal Democrats and 38 per cent of Labour supporters. His 54 per cent approval rating among Ukip supporters suggests that he might win back a fair number of Tories who have been won over by Nigel Farage.
Of course part of Boris’s appeal is that he is a showman. When he speaks, voters want to listen to him. He offers a more exciting menu than the safe, bland, pre-processed offerings of most politicians. He makes politics fun.
Our poll, however, suggests that after six years as Mayor, Boris has earned the respect of Londoners and not just amused them. YouGov regularly lists qualities that politicians aspire to, and asks people to say which apply to each leader. Compared with the views of British voters towards Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, Londoners rate Boris more highly, not just as charismatic, but also as honest, strong, “a natural leader” and sticking to what he believes in.
The upshot is that of the five leaders we asked people to rate, either as the actual Prime Minister (Cameron) or potential PM (Miliband, Clegg, Farage, Johnson), Boris is the only one with a net positive rating, with slightly more people saying he would do well (44 per cent) than badly (41 per cent). His net score of +3 compares with Cameron (-6), Miliband (-26), Farage (-36) and Clegg (-46).
The good news for Boris does not stop there. Londoners rate him far more highly than Cameron or Miliband as someone who understands commuters and middle-class voters. He also appeals across the generations, emerging ahead of the two national party leaders in understanding both older Londoners and Londoners in their twenties. As for his record in office, Londoners give him high marks for handling London’s bus and tube services. Their verdict on the way he has tackled crime in London is more mixed but still, on balance, positive.
What about the downsides? Our survey suggests that one that has been mooted can be laid to rest. He is well-known for his, how shall we put this, varied private life. This troubles few Londoners. Only 22 per cent think that his affairs, and fathering a child as a result of one of them, make him “unsuitable to be a senior politician.” Seven in 10 either regard his behaviour as a purely private matter (37 per cent) or deserving criticism but not something that should affect his political career (32 per cent).
This does not mean Boris has no negatives; our survey identifies three. By two-to-one, Londoners think he has done a bad job of dealing with London’s biggest current problem: housing. He might regard this verdict as unfair: he has few powers over the housing market and is not responsible for national policies, such as the bedroom tax and the cap on housing benefits, that affect London more than anywhere else in Britain. But politicians often have to pay the price for what happens on their watch, even if they can do little about it.
Although he scores highly on strength, honesty and leadership, few Londoners think he is “in touch with the concerns of ordinary people.” Cameron suffers from the same perception. This is one party trait that Boris has so far failed to dispel in his own character. Many Londoners are unhappy with his decision to remain as Mayor after he returns to the House of Commons as MP for Uxbridge. Just one in three thinks he is right to hold both jobs at once.
None of these negatives is likely to impede his progress towards his party’s leadership. But if he is then to lead his party to victory in a future general election, he will need to show that he is more than a quirky and engaging personality. If he can do this, he will be hard to stop.