The Prime Minister has described himself as a ‘One Nation’ Tory but has done as much as any contemporary politician to create (or expose) division in the United Kingdom, says Dr Stephen Barber.
When Boris Johnson was a candidate for Mayor of London, he defeated incumbent Ken Livingstone in part by the so-called ‘doughnut’ strategy. That is Ken had been very much associated with central London (a zone one and two Mayor). He introduced busses and cycle lanes; supported cultural events and infrastructure.
Team Boris saw the opportunity to give a little love and affection to outer London. this meant the leafy suburbs in particular which border the Home Counties and which might have felt neglected by Mayor Ken.
It worked and Boris was twice elected Conservative Mayor in a Labour leaning Capital. Boris established himself as a popular figure who transcended party in a way few others could. And for the most part, his stance as Mayor was that of an open minded, internationalist, socially moderate politician who shared the attitudes of progressive London: a cosmopolitan world city.
If he stood again today it is unlikely he could pull off the trick for a third time. The day after the EU referendum result was announced in 2016, Boris left his Islington home to a chorus of jeers and boos. Not only was Boris unused to that reaction, but voters too had experienced a BoJo epiphany. For many Londoners, by leading the victorious Leave campaign, Boris had betrayed the values they thought they had shared.
He had become and has remained a divisive figure. But Johnson had proved something else during the referendum campaign- he had shown that this metropolitan old Etonian had electoral appeal up and down the country.
That has meant getting used to the jeers. In the first week of his premiership Johnson visited the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales respectively. In Edinburgh and in Cardiff his presence was met with angry boos from the waiting crowds.
Johnson has described himself as a ‘One Nation’ Tory but has done as much as any contemporary politician to create (or expose) division in the United Kingdom. And his own divisiveness in large parts of the devolved regions and London suggest a somewhat ‘reverse doughnut’ position where his appeal is concentrated in the middle.