Boris’s Tory leadership chances: the lesson of Patrick Gordon Walker

boris and cameronA typically colourful quote from Mayor of London Boris Johnson on any ambition he might harbour one day to occupy Number 10:

“I would like to be the lead singer of an international rock group. That was my aim, or a good guitarist. I would love to have been a world-famous painter or a composer. There are many things that I would like to have been able to do. … Obviously, if the ball came loose from the back of a scrum – which it won’t – it would be a great, great thing to have a crack at. But it’s not going to happen.”

Yet he remains the bookies’ favourite, according to The Spectator’s daily tracker:

    Next Tory leader chances, as implied by bookies: Boris Johnson 19%, Theresa May 16%, Michael Gove 11%, Philip Hammond 9%, George Osborne 9%, William Hague 8%, David Davis 6%, Grant Shapps 5%.

The biggest stumbling block to Boris becoming Tory leader is the obvious one: he’s not an MP. But there is continuing speculation about a possible route — for example, from political journalist Gaby Hinsliff:

A by-election to create a vacancy for Boris — is it plausible? Well, never rule anything out. But the voters tend not to like being taken for granted. That’s a lesson that Patrick Gordon Walker learned the hard way in the 1965 Leyton by-election…

Patrick Gordon Walker was the Labour MP defeated in 1964 in the infamous Smethwick campaign (which featured the slogan, “If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour”). Harold Wilson appointed Gordon Walker to the foreign office anyway. Labour’s Reginald Sorensen was moved upstairs to the Lords to create a safe seat for Gordon Walker to occupy. But Leyton’s voters had other ideas: it was gained by the Tories by 205 votes in January 1965. Patrick Gordon Walker was forced to resign from office.

However, he did return to power: the seat reverted to Labour at the 1966 general election. So if Boris is to take a tilt at the Tory leadership, the safe route would be to find a London seat ready for the 2015 general election. To risk a by-election is to chance humiliation. And Boris may be a fool, but he’s not stupid.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Tom Papworth 19th Mar '13 - 11:05pm

    And, to be fair to theTories, my understanding is that he was treated as a pariah in parliament.

    On the issue of a by-election, how safe was Layton at the time? The last rumour I heard was that room would be made for Boris in South Croydon. Hardly a big risk there, I’d suggest.

  • ” The last rumour I heard was that room would be made for Boris in South Croydon. Hardly a big risk there, I’d suggest”

    I wouldn’t have thought that Croydon was Boris’ style – surely he would be lined up for a seat like Kensington? Current MP Malcolm Rifkind must surely be thinking about retiring at some point soon and could be guaranteed elevation to the Lords. I heard rumours too that the seat of Reigate was being line dup for Boris?

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