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Westlake Legal Group > Boris Johnson (Mayor)

Lord Ashcroft: Will voters still give Johnson the benefit of the doubt? We’re about to find out.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For more information about his work, visit www.lordashcroft.com and www.lordashcroftpolls.com.

Six years ago, I published some research entirely dedicated to the Boris Johnson phenomenon. The title of the report – Are You Serious? – encapsulated two things: the reaction of Johnson-sceptics to the idea that he might rise to an office greater than the London Mayoralty, and the question many voters, intrigued but not altogether convinced by this unusual adornment to public life, were asking of Johnson himself.

We know the answer to the second question, if it was ever in doubt: yes, deadly. His pursuit of the top job has been skilful and relentless. His apparently playful approach to life masks a fierce determination, which voters can sense. If the achievement of his ambition were not itself proof enough, his ruthless remaking of the Government around his central policy of a Halloween Brexit puts to rest any doubt about the seriousness of his intent.

Strangely, the first question – can this possibly be happening? – is alive and well among elements of the commentating class, as well as some of his adversaries. Here there are echoes of the reaction not just of the EU referendum result and the election of Donald Trump – which stemmed from an inability to understand why a reasonable person could vote for either – but more distantly to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Despite their opponents’ continued belief that they were too hapless, dim or otherwise unqualified for public office, both were re-elected – partly because of their critics’ inevitable tendency to underestimate someone whose rise to power seemed to them some sort of cosmic mistake. If this is how Johnson’s elevation appears to those who already want to see the back of him, that can only work to his advantage.

Despite coming down on the side of Jeremy Hunt in the leadership election, I wrote a few weeks ago on this site that I did not fear disaster in the event of a Johnson victory. Both are proper Tories, committed to honouring the referendum result, personally engaging and with good ideas. The first hours of his administration have confirmed that. Though I wonder about some of his appointments – the loss of Penny Mordaunt is particularly regrettable – the sense of direction is unmistakeable and refreshing.

His speech on entering Downing Street was ambitious and wide-ranging, and more specific in some of its ideas than many would have expected. And while the cynics increasingly equate optimism with delusion, tone matters, and the cheerful sense of belief he exudes is already a welcome contrast from the last three glum years. Most important of all, he is making it clear that he intends to do everything he can to deliver on his promise, at a time when so many are exasperated with parliament’s inability or refusal to carry out the country’s wishes.

But this is only day three. When the smoke clears from the initial burst of shock and awe, the tiresome reality will come back into focus – the precarious parliamentary maths and the so far unwavering stance of the European Union. There is also the fact that sooner or later, voters are going to pass judgment on their new Prime Minister – their third in 37 months.

Here is it instructive to look at what people actually said about him in my 2013 study. A majority of voters thought of him as “different from most politicians, and in a good way”, while the next most popular view was that he was “not really a politician at all”. While he was famous for speaking his mind (“He says it how it is. In a very posh voice,” as one of our focus group participants put it), most were at a loss to say where he stood on any particular issue, including Europe.

And though obviously a Tory, he seemed somewhat detached from the party and had his own appeal. Though people thought he was a good Mayor of London, many thought the role was about being an ambassador for the city rather than carrying any executive authority (“do we want someone on zipwires making decisions about the NHS and education and going to war?” Johnson as Prime Minister “would be excellent until it all went tits up.”) Offered a range of potential descriptions for him, people were most likely to choose “likeable” and “a people person”; they were least likely to say he was “on my side” or “a safe pair of hands.”

As it happened, he did not have to alleviate these concerns (which still persist, along with others, as my research during the leadership contest confirmed) before reaching Number Ten. But he will have to do so if he wants to stay there. Though he remains unlike any other politician, he and the Conservative Party, and the Conservative Government, are no longer mere nodding acquaintances. Despite his declaration that EU migrants in Britain can stay and his appointment of the most diverse Cabinet ever, he seems unlikely to re-emerge as the cuddly cosmopolitan of a kind who could persuade socially liberal London to give him the biggest personal mandate in British politics.

When it comes to executive ability, people will make their judgments as they see him in action – just as they will as to whether he is on their side, especially if they put something other than Brexit at the top of their priority list. Retrieving those voters tempted by the Brexit Party is crucial – but neither can the Tories afford to lose those at the other end of their voting coalition.

One more thing leaps out at me from my six year-old study. Despite the regular mishaps, outrages and minor scandals that seemed to punctuate his career, people often went out of their way to put a generous interpretation on them. I observed that “Boris is given the benefit of the doubt to an extent that other politicians can only dream of”. We’re about to find out how true that still is.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Suella Braverman: What Johnson learned from a London school amidst deprived communities

Suella Braverman is a former DexEU Minister, and is MP for Fareham. She was Chairman of Governors, Michaela Community School, 2013-2017

312AD? Or was it 313AD? Forget questions on Brexit: I know this is what many of us spend hours pondering: what was the date of the conversion of the Holy Roman Empire to Christianity?

It’s a question that Boris Johnson debated when he visited the free school which I co-founded in 2015. The 12 year old pupil at Michaela Community School was adamant that it was 313AD. Johnson – with his Oxford degree in Classics – was convinced of 312AD. A subsequent Google search confirmed that the Mayor of London was indeed wrong, and our Year 8 pupil correct on this point of Roman history – The Edict of Milan being the authoritative source.

Such was Johnson’s very gracious admission later that day when he talked about the pioneering teaching methods that are being deployed at Michaela. For, as one of the early free schools, Michaela is a beacon of empowerment and aspiration in Wembley, a community marked by social deprivation and under-achievement. It’s my home town and, had Michaela been around when I was a child, there is no doubt that I would have attended.

Michaela intakes generally consist of approximately 50 per cent children on Pupil Premium, 10 per cent eligible for Special Education Needs support and over 50 per cent with English as a second language. In some years, a third of pupils arrived with a reading age below their chronological age, or two thirds below the national expectation in maths. Some of our children have been under child protection, in care or excluded from previous schools.

But our robust knowledge-based curriculum, coupled with high standards on behaviour and discipline, is the way forward, as the ex-Mayor himself attested. He said this of Michaela: “I saw the way forward for our city and our country. I have never seen any other single institution in London that was so dramatically transforming the problems of our society. I’ve never seen any single programme that would reduce inequality and encourage social mobility.”

We opened the school in 2014 and, after much opposition from left-wing ideologues, proved the critics wrong. Thanks to the freedoms allowed to these schools, Michaela was rated outstanding by OFSTED in 2017. Seeing some children make two, three, four or even five years progress in reading and maths in the space of a single year, or others metamorphose from out-of-control and excluded into studious and respectful has only been possible thanks to greater autonomy enjoyed by teachers, like our inspirational Headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh. Children enjoy a bully-free environment, aim high and their teachers have instilled in them perseverance and stoicism. Just as Johnson did, visitors from all over the country marvel at what they see.

How is this working? Johnson summed it up perfectly: ‘These children are learning natural self-esteem that comes from genuine academic achievement. They are learning not only how to achieve and use knowledge but they are learning to want to achieve. They are learning aspiration…With discipline, competition and the acquisition of knowledge, they are putting on a suit of armour and bit by bit becoming stronger and intellectually resilient to take on anything that life throws at them.’

That is why Johnson’s commitment to increase spending on our primary and secondary schools is a real reflection of his passion for social justice. The extra £4.6bn per year into our schools that he will deliver will help to re-energise them. Under his plans, primary and secondary school pupils will receive more resources than they do today. This is a welcome step-change in education funding which will help break down barriers in our society.

If we want to restore trust in the power of what Conservative policies can achieve we need to deliver Brexit by October 31st, and it is only Boris Johnson who will do this. If we really want to tackle that poverty of aspiration, let’s make him Prime Minister. If we want to create a nation where it truly doesn’t matter what your parents did, or which side of town you came from, but where you have learnt to want to achieve and are resilient enough to take on what life throws at you, Boris Johnson is the man to make that a reality for our children.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com