Boris will need more than one-lin­ers to unite Tories

‘Boris must now quickly show his col­leagues that he is ca­pa­ble of change and se­ri­ous lead­er­ship’

The Daily Telegraph - - Britain Out - By Andy Coul­son Andy Coul­son is a for­mer press sec­re­tary for David Cameron

Rarely do po­lit­i­cal one­lin­ers make a real and last­ing dif­fer­ence to cam­paigns. My 2008 con­tri­bu­tion to the David Cameron lex­i­con – “I’m a Man with a Plan” – now looks un­likely to stand the test of time. But in the fi­nal hours of the EU ref­er­en­dum bat­tle, Boris John­son de­liv­ered a slo­gan that may well have caused a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of vot­ers to switch to Leave. “Let’s make Thurs­day our In­de­pen­dence Day” had it all – a touch of Hol­ly­wood that was also truly mem­o­rable, a fact spot­ted by Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who shame­lessly tried to claim it for him­self in a vic­tory speech.

For large parts of the cam­paign, Boris’s for­tunes were con­sid­ered by many to be head­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. But that one-liner changed the game – for him and Leave. It was an­other of this sum­mer’s last-minute Euro­pean win­ning goals.

Now, as front-run­ner for prime min­is­ter, Boris will need to ap­ply his pow­ers of per­sua­sion to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent au­di­ence. Smart slo­gans won’t be enough. He will have been shaken by the abuse he re­ceived from the young crowd that gath­ered out­side his home on Fri­day morn­ing. But his pop­u­lar­ity out­side of leafy North Lon­don re­mains strong. His abil­ity to con­nect, in a coun­try which has now proved it­self to be fun­da­men­tally dis­con­nected from the po­lit­i­cal class, is a huge as­set. Sup­port at Tory grass roots level is high, al­though, I sus­pect, some older Tories will not have liked the ap­par­ent dis­loy­alty against his leader, what­ever their views about Europe.

Boris’s prob­lem lies with his fel­low Con­ser­va­tive MPs, a num­ber of whom have pledged to do all that they can to pre­vent him from be­ing anointed as leader. Some of his strong­est op­po­nents are among those who ar­gued along­side him for Brexit. Se­nior and re­spected pro-Re­main fig­ures in the party are also poised to pub­licly and ag­gres­sively at­tack, be­liev­ing he set aside his true view on Europe, and the coun­try’s sta­bil­ity, for per­sonal am­bi­tion. As one se­nior Con­ser­va­tive told me: “Say what you like about Ge­orge Os­borne but he’s sac­ri­ficed his lead­er­ship am­bi­tions for what he re­ally thought about Europe. Boris has sac­ri­ficed what he re­ally thought about Europe for the sake of his lead­er­ship am­bi­tions.”

But Boris’s first moves have been solid and im­pres­sive. His press con­fer­ence per­for­mance was well­pitched. His words of trib­ute to David Cameron, in par­tic­u­lar, were ex­pertly crafted and at least gave the im­pres­sion of be­ing sin­cere.

And there is still no ob­vi­ous stand­out can­di­date to take Boris on. If one fol­lows the logic of David Cameron’s de­part­ing state­ment, the next prime min­is­ter must surely be a Brex­iter. Michael Gove, his main ri­val, has sen­si­bly thrown his weight be­hind Boris. Theresa May might be able to craft for her­self a cred­i­ble route from re­luc­tant and al­most in­vis­i­ble Re­mainer to safe pair of hands.

Liam Fox, one of the few Leavers who ad­mirably re­fused to get per­sonal dur­ing the cam­paign, is also in the run­ning. That he is a Scot will be an­other plus for him, given the in­evitable prob­lems that lie ahead for the union. Stephen Crabb and Jeremy Hunt both carry a lot of pos­i­tives but fail the Brexit test.

Boris must now quickly show his col­leagues that he is ca­pa­ble of change and se­ri­ous lead­er­ship. Ev­ery­thing he says and does must, in the short term, be di­rected at turn­ing the minds of those MPs who stand in his way. It is the only au­di­ence that mat­ters.

A first smart move would be to reach out to Ge­orge Os­borne and per­suade him to stay on in a se­nior role. For­eign Sec­re­tary makes sense.

Once the dust has set­tled, Os­borne would be an im­por­tant and valu­able col­league to have at the Cabi­net ta­ble. He can also help to unify a frac­tured party. Whether he would want the job, of course, is an­other mat­ter but he, like the Prime Min­is­ter, is a true pa­triot and in the end will want to do what is best for his coun­try.

The MPs not im­me­di­ately minded to back Boris do not need to love their likely new leader but they do need to be sure that he is the only can­di­date who can keep them in a job. It is time now for him to show that he is a man with a plan … and not just for him­self.

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