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.


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The Daily Toast: Iain Dale Is Right, Boris Johnson The EU Agnostic Is No Leader

Boris Johnson - EU referendum

Any politician who has not yet stated their position on Brexit is politically calculating, not genuinely agnostic, and forfeits the right to call themselves a leader

Iain Dale makes the short and convincing case that Boris Johnson is a man of absolutely no conviction on the most important issue of the day, and that consequently he should not be looked up to as a potential Conservative Party leader or prime minister.

Dale writes in Conservative Home:

Potential prime ministers need to be leaders, not followers. The fact that we won’t find out until today which side of the EU argument Boris Johnson will fall down on says a lot. We all know that he’s not a genuine Eurosceptic, so for him to continue to flirt with the Leave campaign tells us much about his political calculation.

I still think he will ally himself to the Prime Minister in the end, but let’s assume he doesn’t. Does anyone believe that such a move would be fired by genuine political conviction? Of course not.

In such circumstances, he will have calculated that if he becomes the de facto public face of the Leave campaign and that Britain then votes for Brexit, David Cameron would have no alternative but to resign – and that he himself would become party leader by acclamation.

Such a calculation may be right. But it would make Frank Underwood and Francis Urquhart look like amateurs. Some people may think that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I think it would stink.

Meanwhile, the Independent breathlessly “war-games” all of the possible outcomes, focusing on the most important thing in this entire EU referendum debate – the consequences for Boris Johnson’s precious career:

It’s decision time for Boris. Having spent months – if not years – teasing David Cameron (and the rest of us) as to whether he is an ‘outer’ or an ‘inner’ the time is fast approaching when the Mayor of London and possible future Tory leader (and Prime Minister) will have to make up his mind which side he is going to back in the EU Referendum.

Boris calls for Brexit – but the country says we want to stay.

This would be the worst of all worlds for Johnson’s burning ambition. He would have staked his reputation on a ‘leave’ vote and been rejected by the voters. He would be punished by Cameron and left to languish on the backbenches. His electoral mystique would be shattered and his chances of succeeding Cameron would disappear. Johnson knows this – and that is why he is so reluctant to take such a big risk and nail his colours to Brexit.

No, the time for Boris Johnson to make up his mind is not “fast approaching”. That time is now a rapidly-shrinking dot in the rear-view mirror.

Boris Johnson apparently aspires to lead the country. Real leaders (not that we have seen one in awhile) set out their vision and inspire, persuade, cajole or threaten their followers to march on toward their chosen destination. They do not wait to see which direction the majority of their flock split before sprinting to the front of the column and pretending to have been leading them all along. They do not skulk quietly at the back, grinning and flirting with both sides of an existential debate and hedging their bets until the last possible moment.

For a biographer and self-professed admirer of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson is almost singularly lacking in any of the key qualities of our great wartime leader. Winston Churchill endured many years in the political wilderness due to the unpopularity of his political beliefs – beliefs which he expressed loudly and eloquently, whether they were right or wrong, wildly popular or deeply unfashionable. Churchill did not hedge his bets by making ambivalent noises about Nazi Germany’s re-armament in the 1930s – he railed against Hitler and strongly opposed the policy of appeasement, at a time when many in the country preferred to bury their heads in the sand and avoid facing reality.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, puts his own career first, second and third. And if he does have strong feelings one way or another about Britain’s membership of the EU, they are firmly subordinate to his concern for his own personal advancement. Yet he gets a free pass from the media on account of his bumbling persona and the fact that he is endlessly quotable, even when (as is nearly always the case) he is actually saying absolutely nothing of any importance or lasting value.

We have had leaders who care primarily about their public image and personal career advancement before. We have one now. Boris Johnson would just take this trend to its logical conclusion: the pursuit and holding of power as the first and only objective, with any core principle liable to be cast aside if doing so will help to shore up the incoherent centrist coalition of a support base – support which may be a mile wide but only an inch deep, as Tim Montgomerie warned on his recent departure from the Conservative Party.

Richard North says it best when it comes to the media’s obsession with Boris Johnson’s conspicuous fence-sitting:

Having to contend with this obsession, I have advanced, is like being a policeman attending a multiple car pile-up while a passer-by attempts to talk to him about their pet hamster.

If and when Boris Johnson finds it within himself to act like a leader, we should reconsider giving him the time of day. But so long as he continues to act in such a nakedly self-serving and principle-free way, the media should stop reporting on Boris’s dithering and start holding to account those people who actually have the courage to publicly declare their positions.


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Small Minds Discuss People: The Media’s Coverage Of The EU Referendum

Boris Johnson - Theresa May - EU Referendum - Brexit - Conservative Party

The EU referendum is about the British people, not the Westminster game of thrones

Another day brings another tiresome round of court gossip about which Conservative ministers might potentially campaign for Britain to leave the European Union in the coming referendum.

This time the breathless gossip is reported in Guido Fawkes:

A co-conspirator tucking into his ravioli in Westminster’s Quirinale restaurant looked up to see Theresa May and Liam Fox settling down to lunch. An hour earlier Fox had asked the Home Secretary for assurances over the government’s line on Russia, so you can bet that was on the menu. Though the main topic for discussion will almost certainly have been Europe.

There has been speculation that May has been meeting with leading Eurosceptics as she keeps her options open ahead of the referendum. Where better for Dr Fox to lobby her to lead the Out campaign than one of the pricier Italian restaurants in SW1? 

While the Evening Standard gushes about Boris Johnson:

What vexes the fledgling campaign to stay in the EU is the prospective behaviour of Boris Johnson and Theresa May: in the words of one Westminster insider, “they are the only players who could change the weather”.

True enough. Boris has the popular appeal to make the Out campaign blossom with optimism and good cheer, ridding it at a stroke of its negative, wintry disposition. May, on the other hand, would bring the authority of a great office of state to the Brexit campaign. Both politicians are taken seriously within the Tory tribe as prospective successors to Cameron. Small wonder that their every move is being scrutinised so closely.

Seasoned Boris-watchers (or Bozzologists) admit that his behaviour is presently inscrutable. Those I have spoken to incline — just — to the view that he will decide eventually to stick with the In camp, though without much conviction.

Before going on to say of Theresa May:

In 2010 May was startled to be given such a senior brief. Since then she has become incrementally persuaded that she has what it takes to succeed Cameron. Like Boris, she knows her leadership prospects are intimately entangled with her conduct in the EU referendum. But if she is serious about taking on the boys for the top job, she should give the Out camp a wide berth.

As Michael Heseltine used to say as he prepared his challenge to Margaret Thatcher, most contenders only have one bullet in the chamber. If May aligns herself with the Out movement, she will be handing the gun to others and inviting them to do as they please with her accrued political capital. So if her head has indeed been turned by the flattery of the Brexit crew, it should be turned back — and fast.

Because we all know that the really important thing in this referendum is not the profound and historic choice that the British people will make about how we wish to be governed in the twenty-first century, but rather the salacious court gossip over which cabinet ministers and wannabe future Tory leaders will risk their bright young (or not-so-young) careers by allying themselves with the Brexit cause.

Never mind that awkward S-word, sovereignty. That’s boring. Never mind a detailed and difficult discussion about the realities of global governance. That would require research. Proving the adage that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people, most of the British media is happy to talk about people and the petty personalities involved in the public debate, to the near total exclusion of everything else.

If you want serious, granular analysis and argument on either side of the referendum debate, there is no point looking in the pages of the Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Spectator or any other publication claiming prestige. All you will find there are thinly veiled press releases from one or other of the groups squabbling for lead designation, or worryingly naive editorials from household name commentators who sound suspiciously like they have done no independent research of their own. Very unimpressive.

No, for serious analysis you have to turn to the blogosphere, and sites like and Leave HQ on the Brexit side, or Hugo Dixon on the Remain side. And the difference is like walking from a junior school classroom to a tutorial room at Oxford or Cambridge. Absent are the mindless platitudes and stale (often long-ago disproven) talking points that are so often repeated on television and in the broadsheets, and in their place are references to the real, murky world of global regulation – a world which, once discovered, proves that the EU is not the “top table” as europhiles blithely claim, but also that an orderly Brexit would not lead to an instant “bonfire of the regulations” as some on the Leave side stubbornly insist.

Some eurosceptics and Brexiteers would say I am wasting my time by even bothering to mention low-grade newspaper gossip such as the Boris Johnson vs Theresa May game of thrones. And they have a good point, to a degree. This referendum is about the British people and what they think is best, not what government ministers, opposition politicians or establishment media figures may want. Fair enough.

But you can’t just look at these shenanigans in isolation. Is the coming Brexit referendum the most important thing to happen politically in a generation? Yes, absolutely. But that does not mean that we should focus on the referendum outcome to the extent that we ignore the failings and misdeeds of the political class who were here before the referendum became a reality and will (sadly) be here long after it is but a footnote in history.

There is the future stewardship of the country to think about. And I want Britain’s future political leaders to be (so far as possible) principled people with the courage of their convictions. If they claimed to hold a certain view on an important issue like Britain’s membership of the European Union to get elected, they should then follow that through once in office.

Consequently, this blog will be taking a very dim view indeed of any Conservative politician who wrapped themselves in the cloak of euroscepticism to win selection, only to run loyally to David Cameron’s heels like an obedient dog and campaign for a “Remain” vote when it really counts.

This debate should be about ideas first and foremost. That is where this blog will focus. However – and maybe this a sign that I lack a great mind – I for one will certainly remember those people who put their personal careers ahead of their commitment to democracy when it comes to this existential referendum.

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Just Build The Damn Runway


This article was first published at Conservatives for Liberty

Build the third runway at Heathrow airport. And a fourth. Build new runways at London’s Gatwick and Stansted airports too. And then build a helipad directly on top of the homes and gardens of all the selfish, hand-wringing, growth-averse NIMBY naysayers who think that their decision to live by an airport gives them veto rights over Britain’s economic future

Chicago’s O’Hare international airport has seven runways. Count ’em. Seven. Five of these runways run east-west and the other two run diagonally. So long as your aircraft possesses an engine and wheels, there is almost certainly a runway at O’Hare suitable for landing without the need to circle in a never-ending holding pattern before eventually lining up for approach and touching down an hour after actually arriving above the city.

You can fly in and out of Chicago quickly, efficiently and cheaply because generations of local political leaders – for all their many other faults – have understood that aviation provides a huge boost to the economy, and that a city which makes access and connection quick and convenient for all types of traveller will surely reap the economic rewards.

Nine hours away in London, this common-sense attitude is sorely lacking. Despite the fact that no new full-length runway has been constructed in London or the south-east of England since the 1940s – when we were still digging ourselves out of the rubble of the Blitz – Britain is wasting time, energy and precious economic opportunities debating whether or not to increase airport capacity at any one of several implausible choices in south-eastern England beside the obvious option of committing to London’s Heathrow Airport, the largest and most popular.

Anyone thinking that the release of the Airports Commission report by Sir Howard Davies (summary: we should probably expand Heathrow, but Gatwick will do in a pinch) would bring this debate to a timely end were deluding themselves. David Cameron’s shrewd political radar is matched only by his lack of political courage – the Tories are terrified of angering neighbouring voters by giving the green light for more noise pollution and traffic congestion around Heathrow.

Worse still, although the Tories are hardly seen as a party of tree-hugging eco warriors their likely candidate to replace Boris “Island” Johnson as Mayor of London, Zac Goldsmith, is also dead set against the idea of expanding Heathrow despite the overwhelming logic behind committing to the major hub airport.

The never-ending question of whether or not to do the obvious and expand Heathrow airport is typical of Britain’s ridiculous approach to important decisions about critical national infrastructure. First we deny the existence of a problem or need. Then we delude ourselves that we have plenty of time to consider the issue from all angles, while better governed countries leapfrog us left, right and centre. Then we establish a time-wasting commission which seeks – in that peculiarly British way – to avoid angering anyone, while actually enraging everyone with its equivocation. And finally, twenty years later, we come to a tortuous decision – at which point anything we reluctantly build is woefully inadequate to current demand.

Not content with fighting the expansion of Heathrow airport tooth and nail, others are opening a new front in the war on aviation with a sanctimonious new attack on frequent fliers, who many left-wingers see not as vital contributors to global business and tourism but rather as parasitic city-hoppers guilty of overconsumption and leaving deadly trails of CO2 in their wake.

Looking wistfully back at the time when an Icelandic volcano eruption grounded flights between Europe and America, the Guardian opines:

The loss of the global economy’s airborne arteries could have been a death knell for business. But, the world didn’t end and people adapted astonishingly quickly in ways that had other environmental benefits.

There was an upward spike in the use of video-conferencing facilities saving business travellers time, money and fatigue […]

What’s more, stranded people turned to each other for help. The Swedish carpool movement spread its horizons, setting up a new Facebook group called Carpool Europe to share cars and rides. Twitter came into its own with hashtags like #putmeup and #getmehome.

You know when else the British people came together to make the best of a bad situation and relied on the kindness of strangers to get by? The Blitz. But no-one is proposing that we invite the Luftwaffe back for a second crack at carpet-bombing our major cities, because although disruptive and traumatic events do force us to come up with inventive ways to survive and keep the wheels turning, it would usually be far better if the negative situation occurred at all.

This is especially true of self-inflicted economic wounds like the proposed frequent flyer tax or the stubborn failure to expand and upgrade key national infrastructure out of genuine (or cynical) concern for the environment. If we continue to starve London of connections to the expanding markets of countries like China, the world will not end. But we will be overtaken by other, better governed European countries and we will all be immeasurably poorer in the long term.

There are times when we absolutely should put the conservation of our planet and natural environment at the forefront of government decision making and planning. But there are also times when our commitment to human progress and building a more prosperous society full of material abundance should be our single-minded goal. The tedious, seemingly never-ending debate about whether or not to build one solitary new runway in Britain falls firmly into the second category.

When formulating government policy or making critical decisions about our national infrastructure, we should subject our thought processes to one key test: does the proposal look to the past or the future? And if the proposal looks to the past – making use of outdated technology, serving a saturated market or simply mollifying people who are scared of progress and change – we should kill it in the crib.

For example, we should not be rushing to build new coal-fired power stations to meet our future energy needs, no matter what spurious claims ‘clean coal’ may make for itself. Rather, we should invest heavily in nuclear power and renewables (home grown where possible) to ensure Britain’s long-term energy independence and national security interests.

Local interests and feelings are important, but there are times when we must think and act as one country, with important national needs and challenges to be faced together. And yes, sometimes this will mean bulldozing over the objections of those blinkered, parsimonious campaigners who seem to find an objection to just about any form of pleasure or economic activity.

Air travel is great. It takes rich tourists from wealthy countries and brings them to poorer countries where they boost the local economy with their money. It keeps the wheels of business turning, from the CEO flying from New York to London for a meeting, the office worker commuting to Berlin every week for a project, to doctors and scientists gathering for international conferences.

Air travel bridges the distance between our towns and cities and helps knit the planet together through a web of far-flung family members, friendships and business relationships. And in doing so, the aviation industry helps to foster trust and understanding, bridging cultural divides and doing more to affirm our common humanity than any third-sector institution or political movement.

And yet we seem intent on attacking aviation, thwarting its growth and choking the life out of the industry with punishing airport taxes and insurmountable barriers to expansion. And for what? So that human beings can creep meekly across the surface of the planet, apologising for our very existence and ostentatiously offsetting the carbon dioxide we emit whenever we open our mouths?

When it comes to coal, by all means let Britain keep it in the ground and in the twentieth century, where it belongs. Regulate the life out of the fracking industry too, if you must, so long as you are willing to explain to the unemployed man why your environmentalist convictions should trump his right to work.

But for heaven’s sake, let’s not continue to suppress Britain’s aviation industry – which is so important and contributes so much – just to burnish our green credentials.

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Politicians Who Are Against Uber Are Against Working Londoners

Uber Taxi Protest

Uber represents everything good about capitalism, disruptive innovation at its most useful. Any politician who wants to make it harder or impossible for Uber to operate is directly working against the interests of the people

If a group of heavies from, say, the Unite union had broken into Parliament during the recent debate on the Trade Union Act, disrupted the House of Commons, forced an end to the session and knocked a security guard unconscious in the process, what do you think David Cameron’s Conservative government would be doing right now?

Exactly. Those involved would be receiving the same full measure of British justice as was dealt out to the London rioters back in 2011 and looking at some hard jail time, while the unions they represented would be positively begging for measures as mild as those currently proposed by the government. The Conservatives would be at total war with the unions, and Labour’s hyperbolic claims about the Evil Tories wanting to roll back two hundred years of industrial relations regulation might actually start to seem plausible.

All of which makes it surprising that when exactly the same thing happened at London’s City Hall earlier this month – when members of that famous cartel, London’s black cab drivers, burst into the chamber and brought an abrupt end to Mayor’s Question Time – there were absolutely no negative consequences whatsoever.

CityAM reported at the time:

Mayor’s Question Time was shut down after police were called to City Hall today, after a security guard was apparently knocked out in scuffle outside the building. 

Black cab drivers were demonstrating outside (and inside) the Southbank venue over ongoing criticism of Transport for London’s handling of regulation for private hire car companies, in particular Uber

They waved banners calling for Johnson to “stand firm” against “Uber’s lobbyists”, with suggestions that the ride-sharing taxi app puts public safety at risk. 

Ah yes, appeals for politicians to consider public safety – the last refuge of the desperate, antiquated monopolist fighting a lost cause as they slide into irrelevance. Won’t somebody please think of the children, too, while we’re at it?

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