Can any other Tory deliver the knockout blow to Boris Johnson?
His celebrity and frontrunner status mean there will be a concerted campaign to stop him becoming party leader
[photo of black boxer Jack Jackson on the Eving Standard website click here ]
Fighting fit: Jack Johnson, the first black boxer to win a heavyweight title. His namesake Boris faces an equally bruising challenge to lead the Tories
A hundred years ago, Jack Johnson was a brilliant boxer with lightning-speed reactions. He was heavyweight champion of the world.
A “Jack Johnson” was the British nickname used to describe the impact of a heavy, black German 15cm artillery shell during the First World War. Johnson was a celebrity. He was a black American in an age of deep racial prejudice and segregation.
His blatant love of luxury, some would say vulgarity, shocked his contemporaries. He flaunted his relationships with white women, which at that time appalled many Americans. Yet no one could deny he was a great boxer. As a champion, many contenders fought him. There was always the desire to find a “great white hope”, a white boxer who could finally defeat this black upstart.
Boris Johnson is clearly a very different character. He is a classical scholar and a writer of brilliance. He has notably different qualities from his earlier namesake. Yet he enjoys much the same celebrity status, and bookies now have him as favourite to be the next Tory leader.
There are obviously dangers in being a frontrunner. Who can forget Michael Portillo launching his leadership campaign in 2001 surrounded by half the shadow Cabinet? He seemed invincible but he didn’t even make the final two. “The favourite never wins” is almost a cliché in Tory leadership elections.
There are many obvious reasons for this. Frontrunners always attract envy, and a desperate campaign to stop them in their tracks. President Nixon used to say “If there is any campaign to ‘stop x’, you should bet your money on ‘x’.” This is not true for Tory leadership elections. ‘X’ usually does get stopped, often brutally. The last Tory favourite to go on to win the leadership was Anthony Eden in 1955, in the days when the “magic circle” of Tory grandees anointed a successor. Since leadership elections were introduced in 1965, the favourites have never won.
Reggie Maudling’s biographer described the situation in 1965: “Maudling was seen as the leading candidate, the heir apparent. He was effectively the deputy leader to Douglas-Home, he was experienced in senior office, he was popular among the electorate and widely liked in Parliament.” Yet Ted Heath was more energetic and forceful. Heath won.
Being the frontrunner, Johnson’s shortcomings, his peccadilloes and his irritating qualities will be raked over endlessly. Recently, Matthew Parris wrote a particularly damaging article in The Times. This article was a hit-job, a journalistic equivalent of a drive-by shooting. The hostile nature of Parris’s attack shows that there will be a concerted, and increasingly desperate, attempt to “stop Boris”.
The bookies now have Boris at about 7/4. That’s roughly a 36 per cent chance. George Osborne, with .........
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