The Media’s Unhealthy Boris Fixation

Boris Johnson - Vote Leave

We all know that Boris Johnson’s decision to “Vote Leave” is gratuitously unprincipled and self-serving. So let’s just stop talking about him – otherwise, we merely give his publicity machine the fuel it craves

Fraser Nelson gets to the heart of what really matters in the Brexit debate – how long it will take David Cameron to forgive Boris Johnson for his treachery:

Until now, David Cameron had been very lucky in his enemies: David Davis, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn. But last night, the quality of his opposition in the EU referendum campaign rose rather substantially. He now finds himself arguing against not only against Michael Gove, the person he turns to when he’s short of killer lines, but against Boris Johnson, perhaps the single most popular figure in the Conservative Party.

[..] This is a gamble that could either leave Boris in the wilderness, or writing the next set of No 10 Christmas cards. Should David Cameron lose the referendum, he will probably have to resign as Prime Minister given how much of his personal authority is on the line. And who would succeed him? Not George Osborne, who urged the Prime Minister to hold an early vote. The leadership race will be decided by Conservative Party members, who are expected to back “out” by a margin of three-to-one.

[..] Already, there are signs of the Cameron operation closing ranks against Boris. No 10 has a semi-official vengeance policy: ministers with a long-standing opposition to the EU will be forgiven for backing “out”. The implication is that there will be no forgiveness for Boris, who has waited until now to declare his support for Brexit. “The last thing I wanted was to go against David Cameron,” said Boris yesterday. Quite true: what he wants is to come after him – and he is, as of last night, the bookmakers’ favourite to do just that.

This kind of breathless court gossip sometimes makes me despair of the Westminster media. There is a real, existential question before us right now – whether Britain should remain in the EU and follow its winding road toward political integration, or take a bold step toward independence and sovereignty. And a media class that did its job properly – speaking to the people rather than excitedly talking amongst themselves – would focus on the policy, not the personalities.

Does the Conservative Party leadership succession matter? Absolutely. Along with Tim Montgomerie, I have a significant ideological interest in who takes over from David Cameron and (hopefully) restores some radical conservative vision to the party of Margaret Thatcher. But there’s a time and a place.

Fraser Nelson at his best is a thoughtful and questioning conservative commentator – particularly when he focuses on social issues like welfare dependency. Were Nelson to fully engage his engine, we would likely all benefit from his considered addition to the EU referendum coverage. But as of Monday evening, everything Fraser Nelson has written thus far has focused on the tedious subject of Boris Johnson’s career.

I don’t need a poll to tell me that right now, people care more about the arguments for and against Brexit than they do the many fierce little psychodramas playing out between the Conservative Party leadership and Brexit-supporting Tory backbenchers, or between David Cameron and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. But survey the mainstream media and you will find a lot more breathless leadership speculation than deep, forensic analysis of David Cameron’s fraudulent renegotiation, or the arguments for and against Brexit.

I’m sure that better stuff will follow. I hope it follows soon.


Boris Johnson - EU referendum

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