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Are the Tories about to have their Blair vs Brown moment?

This supposedly Conservative-led government has always been all about moving quickly, tearing down the red tape left up by the Labour party, and knocking down the barriers raised to build about a new revolution in schools, public sector reform and wider society.

In short they were heirs to Blair who went about exactly the same thing, on a radical mission to change UK politics forever. Only this government appears to be peaking early. Its revolution has been half-baked; the cuts aren’t working, big society has only created a big noise and no substance, while the coalition looks ever more rocky.

Though the Tories have brought to fruition one aspect of the Labour legacy rather early – earlier than I think most were expecting – and that is the designs of a very noticeable bid for a leadership coup.

Boris Johnson has made little attempt to curb opinions that he has his eyes on the big prize. And whether he is really willing to try and scalp Cameron for the job is really beside the point – as always with these things the fight will take place, at least in the open, by the advocates.

There will be obvious parallels to the Blair vs Brown saga. This is appropriate. The fight between the two men happened mostly behind the scenes, but the real beef was between the parties who united around the terms Blairite and Brownite – despite the political differences between the two being nothing much to write home about.

The real difference between the two had been their personalities. The same today can be said of Cameron and Johnson. Both modernising, more than slightly wet, posh, Eurosceptic, comfortable with gays and enthusiastic about immigration. The difference, however, is how they put themselves out in public.

Peter Popham in a brilliant Independent article, written this time last year, noted their major differences: Cameron was the “straight man, the backroom boy” while Boris was the clown who kept people onside through his buffoonishness. Both are married with children, but Cameron has the picture-perfect image onside whereas Boris “is so laid back about his alleged philandering that he is practically French”.

Both images, Popham notices, are lies, but they provide the only real dividing lines between the two politicians, and will inevitably be one of the reasons why Tory activists choose to side with Team Cam or Boris.

What happens now is fawning journalists pretend to find great political, rather than mere image-based, dividing lines between the two. This is happening already, notably today with Stephen Pollard’s article for the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.

Pollard’s main attack is that there is more to Boris than just an attention-seeking cartoon character who gets himself stuck on zipwires. He is a serious politician with high-profile elections behind him. What’s more is that he, as a journalist, has always been able to swing the balance between risky decision-making and controlling the image of how he is presented.

This would suggest that Pollard believes Boris can change his image at the drop of a hat should he make some strong leaps towards Cameron’s job. But further Pollard notices what he says is the real difference between them, saying:

Boris has repeatedly gone out of his way to point out that we need a successful City. That’s a host of reasons why Tories disenchanted with David Cameron are now floating the idea of the prince over the water. They see in Boris the holy grail of Conservatism

I suggest that images like this will be commonplace soon. Team Boris will say he is the real Conservative, whereas Team Cameron will argue their man is the better one. What will become of this fight, if the Blair/Brown one is anything to go by, is that the advocates will play up the miniscule differences and the two men themselves will selectively choose when to accuse the other of disuniting the party.

It’s obviously not enough that the Conservative party are going to struggle again come the next election, but that they have to appeal to the very worst of the last Labour government’s legacy as well? We can wish them well if we choose, because whatever we do, this false choice between Tory a and Tory b will not do their party much good at all.

One Comment

  1. GraySergeant says:

    A good point about the facade of Boris. The ‘bumbling idiot’ image is endearing to the public and gives the impression of openness and trust. Worst of all these stories like the ‘zipwire incident’ get the media’s attention while stories like Boris meetings with Murdoch during the Olympics are pushed into the shadows. Despite his image he is rather clever and a master of spin by appearing as the peoples clown but really serving the interests of the elite.

    Also what is interesting is the idealogical similarities between Boris and Cameron and despite this Boris seems more popular amongst backbench MP’s (even those firmly on the right). Shows that Tories will back anyone to get into power, just like they did with Cameron’s ‘modern’ and compassionate’ Conservative image.

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