December 1, 2020

Boris can’t run Britain like he’s Mayor of London – Telegraph.co.uk

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/11/14/boris-cant-run-britain-like-mayor-london/

If only there was a post of Mayor of Britain – one where you had responsibility for all the nice things like sports tournaments, exciting new bridges, international summits, without having to worry about all the pesky day-to-day problems like overcrowded hospitals, underperforming schools and handling a global pandemic. It isn’t hard to find a figure who would be perfect for the job. It is just a shame that he is being steadily crushed by a job which seems to involve all problems and no fun.

To read Boris Johnson’s face, it is one of constant bewilderment: why isn’t being PM going as well as being Mayor of London? How he must look back to the Olympics, when he was cheered wherever he went – while George Osborne, then Chancellor, was booed.

There are leaders who thrive in the fire – the hotter the miners’ strike got, the more Mrs Thatcher seemed to enjoy herself. Gordon Brown was hardly our greatest PM, but he did at least seem to do his best in a crisis. But Boris? He is saddled with a personality trait that would wound a prime minister at the best of times: he needs to be universally loved. As Mayor of London, he came as close to that happy situation as it is possible to for a leader in a modern democracy. But as Prime Minister, it is never going to happen.

It is easy to understand why Boris appointed Dominic Cummings as his de facto chief of staff: Cummings would do the dirty work while Boris spread the sunshine. It didn’t work, and with Cummings on his way out, there will be no one to soak up the bad PR.

The tempting way forward will be for Boris to try to emulate his time at City Hall: by spaffing money, to use his own term, on grandiose projects to cheer up the nation. Throw in some soft liberal values and a bit of environmentalism – just look what its done for Sir David Attenborough, now unassailable as the nation’s grandad – and you can see the sort of strategy that is forming in Boris’ mind for a post-Covid reboot of his premiership.

But he can’t relive his City Hall days at national level. For a large slice of liberal Britain Boris has blotted his copybook for life: they will never forgive him for Brexit. He cannot spend his way to national happiness; the well of public funds is not so much dry as collapsed. The London Olympics, being figurehead of which suited Boris like nothing else, was conceived at a time of small deficits and strong economic growth. No one is going to be in the mood for frivolity with wages and jobs shrunken by Covid-19. Fiscally, the Government faces an even bigger challenge than the one that turned George Osborne into a figure of hate on the Left.

Whether he likes it or not, Boris has been transformed forever from a unifying figure into a controversial one, from one who makes people smile to one who makes a good part of the country spit with rage. If he wants to survive as PM he doesn’t need to change his liberal-conservative instincts for small government. What he will have to find a way of doing, however, is to reset his personality. He needs to learn to thrive on unpopularity and conflict – because there is no way for him to avoid them.