The Times has this week splashed that several senior Tories are urging David Cameron to put Boris Johnson at the heart of the Conservatives’ election campaign in order to push a more positive message. The Mayor of London is one of the country’s most popular politicians and is felt by many within the party to be the best person to tackle the threat from UKIP.
Boris, who is understood not to be putting himself forward for the vacant Tory safe seat of Kensington after Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s decision to step down in the midst of the cash for access scandal, is considered by many to be the favourite to lead the party in the era referred to by Tories as “A.D”- After Dave.
He is expected to run for the seat of Uxbridge in north west London and today received a boost to his reported hopes of leading the party, with a YouGov poll showing that 47% of Conservative voters believed that he would make a good leader of the party, compared to 37% who backed Theresa May as leader and 29% who supported George Osborne.
Taking over the reins of Team 2015 from Grant Shapps would in many ways be a win-win situation for Boris. If the Tories are returned to power with him having led the charge, the former Spectator editor would be hailed as hero and would surely be a shoe-in for next Tory leader. If they fail, few in the party would blame Boris and would likely turn on Cameron for not having had the foresight to promote his old schoolmate earlier.
It very much depends on how much faith the Prime Minister has in his own ability to convince a sceptical country that the Conservatives are their best bet.
The Tories’ core problem is that for all their rhetoric about their long-term economic plan, they have failed to communicate a positive vision for the future to the electorate, as evidenced by their over-reliance on Ed Miliband’s capacity for self-destruction. Miliband was impressive during this week's PMQs and had Cameron evidently rattled, as he did a fortnight ago after attacking the Tory leader on tax avoidance.
Although Labour too lack a coherent vision, Miliband is becoming increasingly less toxic on the eyes of the electorate and as such, the Tories can no longer afford to rely on the Labour leader’s personal unpopularity and voters seeing him as ‘weird’.
The Tories must come up with a positive vision in the next 71 days and find a way of communicating it to the electorate. Delegating the campaign to Johnson would provide an instant image boost and could win the Tories the election, but could prove a death sentence for Cameron as leader.
Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless were far from the only two Tories disillusioned with life under Cameron before defecting to UKIP and as such, Cameron’s future as Tory leader depends on the outcome of this election.
Even if he were to task Boris with leading the party’s election campaign and the feel-good ‘Boris factor’ won the country round and restored the Tories to government, Cameron’s position as leader could yet be undermined by Boris shining too brightly.
It would be pure hyperbole to say that Cameron’s days as leader of his party were numbered but stick or twist, he will be taking a considerable risk with his own future. It now falls to Cameron, a man whose political principles have never been entirely clear, to decide between career and party.