Imagine a world full of Borises and Borisettes. A parliament full of blonde-haired buffoons who mixed classical references with the kind of everyman charm that allows you to blend in seamlessly - in Eton, at least. Imagine a political world where the Boris mould - charmingly indifferent to what is politically correct, happy to expose himself to ridicule, an obvious sense of humour with free brush strokes - is the accepted norm. Those who decide to enter politics assess their ability to inject words like 'wiff-waff' and 'zoink' into everyday discourse. Cheeky, rough-around-the-edges charm, combined with a crackling intellect, are what really count with the voters.
It's not that implausible. These traits all fit in with what we want of our politicians: straightforward, and inspiring popularity with effortless grace. Would the country be in such a bad state if this were the kind of person who governed our country?
Then imagine the unexpected appearance of a rogue in this Garden of foppish Eden. A suave, smooth professional whose every utterance is designed to appeal to the electorate. A calculating sort of operator, able to speak for many interest groups by carefully avoiding any over-committal to a particular point of view. This politician accepts a certain cynicism from the public as the price of his pragmatism. He is a master at obfuscation, an expert in making himself attractive to the broadest possible base. His name, in case you hadn't worked it out, is David Cameron.
Cameron, only because the prime minister is literally the prime exponent of the kind of politics that holds sway in Britain today. Politics in modern Britain is the art of the possible. It is a sphere where personality has a role, but is subservient to the polished requirements of an image-obsessed age. Cameron's hair is just as slick as Mitt Romney's, but what lies beneath is much more impressive. It doesn't matter what you may think of the Conservative leader's policies. The brain that judges when to hold firm and when to retreat, when to smile and when to look forbidding, purrs like a smoothly running Bentley. How on earth does our parliament of Borises cope with this entirely unique alternative?
The answer is that, initially at least, they are wrongfooted. The tact and carefully-worded nuances of this challenger are so unusual that they get everyone very excited. When the Prime Boris encounters some political heavy weather his opponents even begin talking about this stylistic outsider as a potential successor. It seems ridiculous, but somehow journalists find it impossible to stop thinking about. Could this professional, well-polished loner, whose approach is so very different from everyone else's, emerge on top?
It comes to nothing. However intriguing the alternative might be, the Cameron figure can't make an impact at the very summit of politics. He might be good on a TV show or even as mayor, but in a world where Boris culture rules the Cameron figure can't garner majority support. He is a remarkable phenomenon, but simply doesn't fit into the way politics works.
Back to reality, then, and to a world where it is Boris Johnson who doesn't fit in. His popularity is through the roof after the Olympics, and this weekend a weakened Cameron has begun a new strategy of mixing praise with shoulder-shrugging. But the prime minister has the trump card: he is the politician grounded in the principles that really matter to those governing Britain. Johnson could not survive in No 10 because the Conservative party needs an obfuscator in charge, someone to protect the straining extremes of its moderate and right-wings from each other with highly polished equivocation. However much the Boris of 2012 might offer a compelling alternative, it's the Tory party of Cameron and his clones that rules for a reason: they have found a way to make British politics work for them.
Nobody sums up the real state of play quite like the man himself. As Boris puts it: "My realistic chances of becoming prime minister are only slightly better than my chances of being decapitated by a frisbee, blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a disused fridge or reincarnated as a olive."
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