Boris Johnson. We're delighted...

newstatesman.com's campaign to help the Conservative Party with its London mayoral primary sees Bori

Cast your minds back a few weeks and you will recall that we at newstatesman.com were urging our London-based readers to get involved in the Tory London mayoral primary.

For the price of a £1.50 phonecall and, regardless of your own voting intentions, you could register to have a say in who would go head-to-head with Ken Livingstone in the name of Conservatism...

There were four contenders: Victoria Borwick, Andrew Boff, Warwick Lighfoot and Boris Johnson. All were invited to pen us a piece and only Boris declined to do so. He was on holiday in America at the time.

Our interest in the Tory showdown, such as it was, was inferred in some quarters to be mischievous. Some seemed to think we were trying to convince people on the left of the political spectrum to get involved in order to scupper the blond bombshell's mayoral bid. A suggestion which hurt us deeply.

In fact, as I told the BBC's Brian Wheeler: "If you want the Conservatives to lose, it's true you could vote for the one you considered the most hopeless." But after all that could have been Boris, couldn't it?

And in any case, if stopping Boris was on our minds at newstatesman.com - and I maintain the whole notion is questionable - we were resoundingly unsuccessful.

For it has been announced that the member for Henley will indeed go head-to-head with Red Ken, Green Berry and some Lib Dem or other in next year's contest.

In the primary Boris won 15,661 votes, Borwick got 1,869 votes, Boff 1,674 and Lightfoot picked up 609 votes.

It was one of those ballots that offers you four choices - you put '1' by your favourite, '2' by your second favourite and so on up to four times. I voted three times...

Actually come to think of it I may have voted six times because I left it all rather late and then having posted my ballot last thing on Tuesday thought 'what with the Post Office these days I'd better do it online' but I think we'd better skip over that detail.

So what happens next? Well it depends how you look at it. Maybe we are at the start of seven months of hilarity - London laughing all the way to the polls and then waking up to the hangover of a BoJo mayoralty.

Or perhaps, we will all get to sit back and enjoy ourselves as Lexus Dave's Conservatives unravel and Boris blunders with a series of gaffes that simultaneously offend everyone AND expose his almost total ignorance of the governance of one of the greatest cities on earth.

Or maybe he will surprise us all. Maybe.

Back to the Tory mayoral primary briefly. A Conservative Party spokesman said the contest had "captured the interest of the public and has helped challenge voter apathy". Not with under 20,000 votes from a City of 7.5 million it hasn't! But awfully well done for trying...

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left