The Big Question: To what extent are Boris Johnson and David Cameron rivals?

Author: By Andy McSmith

Why are we asking this now?

Television viewers have a treat in store. A new drama is in preparation, about
privately educated and very self-confident young men showing off in an elite
university in bygone years. It will look like a dramatisation of an Evelyn
Waugh, but actually it will be a drama documentary about the two men whose
rivalry will be a major element in Conservative politics for many more
years. Despite their shared past, David Cameron and Boris Johnson are not
soul mates. Their relations are tense ? even, it is suggested, at breaking
point.

Didn’t Cameron hold Johnson’s arm up in triumph, after the Mayoral victory?

It was a great symbolic victory for Cameron’s Conservatives when London, which
has been a Labour city since 1981, voted a Conservative Mayor into office.
But while Cameron very much wanted the Mayor to be a Conservative, it did
not necessarily follow that he wanted it to be Boris Johnson. The original
Tory choice was the personable Nicholas Boles, but Cameron was not sure that
he could win and sounded out all sorts of people, including Sir John Major,
and even approached the Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell about the
possibility of running Greg Dyke as their joint candidate. The one person he
did not ask was Boris Johnson. When Mr Boles had to pull out for health
reasons, Cameron was left with no candidate, but still could not bring
himself to approach Johnson in person, getting a go-between to sound him
out.

But haven’t they known each other for ever?

In autumn 1979, when 12-year-old David Cameron arrived as a boarder at Eton,
Boris Johnson was 15. With his blond hair and extroverted ways, Boris was
not the sort of person to pass unnoticed, even as teenager, so Cameron must
have been aware of him from a very young age. It will have taken Johnson
longer to be aware of his younger, quieter and seemingly less talented
fellow pupil. Each was certainly aware of the other when they were at Oxford
University in 1985. Both were members of the elite, rowdy Bullingham Club.
On the night police were called because of the damage club members had done
to a restaurant, Cameron had reportedly missed the fun by going to bed
early, while Johnson ran fast enough to avoid arrest.

When did Cameron overtake his school chum?

Cameron and Johnson became MPs on the same day in June 2001, after a general
election, each with a safe seat. Johnson was then far better known than
Cameron. He was editor of The Spectator, chief commentator for The Daily
Telegraph and had made an unforgettable appearance on Have I Got News For
You. Cameron was best known as the young adviser standing in the background
in September 1992 as Norman Lamont emerged from the Treasury to announce
that it was Black Wednesday. But Cameron cultivated much better relations
with the party leader, Michael Howard. Howard sacked Johnson from the front
bench because of his torrid private life, and raised Cameron to the key
position of shadow Education Secretary.

Were they not political allies all this time?

When David Cameron decided to run for the party leadership in 2005, Boris
Johnson threw the weight of The Spectator behind his campaign, and might
have expected a place in Cameron’s shadow Cabinet in return, but all he was
offered was the second-rank post of shadow higher education minister. A
worse snub was that in 2007, Cameron promoted three MPs to his shadow
Cabinet who had been MPs since only 2005, but left the more experienced
Johnson in his old job.

What are they arguing about now?

Johnson is a keen supporter of Crossrail, a planned new rail link traversing
London east to west, but Cameron and his shadow Chancellor, George Osborne,
are looking for ways to cut public spending and see this as a possible
saving. They are also not very impressed by Johnson’s highly controversial
suggestion of building a new airport on marshland in Kent, to relieve
Heathrow, and do not support his call for more power to be devolved to the
Mayor’s office.

Is it just personal rivalry driving these quarrels?

Boris Johnson and David Cameron are being pulled in different directions. The
Conservative leader wants to win a general election, which means trying to
get across the message that the Conservative Party is not exclusively the
party for the comfortably off. Johnson has to consider the Londoners who
voted him into office, who by national standards are well off. So when
Cameron talks of a “broken society”, Johnson calls it “piffle”.
When Labour introduces a 50p tax rate for the highly paid, Johnson wanted
the Tories to promise to scrap it, because there are a lot of highly paid
people in London, including Johnson himself, who dismissed the £250,000 a
year he receives from journalism, on top his £140,000 salary, as “chickenfeed”.
Cameron is not prepared to make that promise.

So how well is Johnson doing?

After almost 15 months in office, Boris Johnson is still popular. If he had to
stand for re-election today, he would almost certainly win. That has a lot
to do with his highly recognisable personality. There are perhaps only two
Conservatives most people can instantly identify from their first names, one
called Margaret, and the other called Boris. His personality will boost the
Conservative vote in the general election, in London at least.

What changes has he made in London?

Johnson hasn’t produced a single change that would match Ken Livingstone’s
congestion charge for its impact on life in the city, but he has brought in
some smaller reforms, such as banning alcohol on buses and tubes. He has
honoured a pledge to slowly withdraw bendy buses (the first are coming off
London’s streets at the moment) and has unleashed a competition to design a
Routemaster fit for the 21st century.

He has also put more police on the streets and on public transport, having
made knife crime in particular a pillar of his election campaign, but made a
public U-turn on tall buildings, which critics suggested was proof of his
being enthralled by big money. He has taken up where Livingstone left off in
championing the 2012 Olympic Games.

Is he a tough boss?

Johnson showed that he can play hard ball when he sacked the Metropolitan
Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, and was quick to accept the resignation
of the chief of counterterrorism, Bob Quick, who accidentally held up
sensitive papers in front of cameras. He has not been good at selecting
deputy mayors: three have had to resign. Personnel additions have been
shrewd, however. Guto Harri, the former BBC correspondent and a friend of
Johnson’s from his Oxford days, has become his chief spin doctor, while
Anthony Browne, a former journalist, is now his director of Policy. They
have run a disciplined operation between them.

Can Johnson and Cameron overcome the differences between them?

Yes…

* They will put aside their differences for the sake of the Tory Party.

* Johnson will seek to carry on being Mayor until Cameron departs.

* Tory grassroots will not support an attempted coup for fear of stoking civil
war. They remember well the baleful consequences of Michael Heseltine’s
unchecked ambitions.

No…

* Johnson’s claims not to covet the job of prime minister ring hollow.

* The pair have never mixed socially and are very different characters,
despite their shared background.

* Johnson’s popularity, with both Tory members and the public, could encourage
his supporters to force prime minister Cameron out.

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