Boris inspires strong feelings in voters – and that’s good
BY SUSAN HALL
Boris Johnson is a Marmite politician. Some people love him. Some people hate him. Very few are ambivalent. Some have changed their minds in recent years. I know of a number of people who used to be big fans of his but now, suffering from Brexit Derangement Syndrome, can barely bring themselves to say his name. On the other hand, there are some Brexiteers (like the audience member from last week’s Question Time) who used to think very little of our Prime Minister but who now cannot sing his praises enough.
It might seem as if politicians should strive to be inoffensive and well-liked, but actually those politicians that achieve the most are almost always divisive. They know what they want to accomplish and then do what they need to do to get it done. When I was Leader of Harrow Council this was at the forefront of my mind. I knew that we only had eight months to the local elections and that, even though my administration did not have an overall majority there was a lot of work to be done to turn the borough around. In that time I took a number of divisive decisions from removing the position of Chief Executive, which saved £250,000 a year, to paying for an aeroplane to fly over the whole borough and heat map it. This identified beds in sheds, which was a real problem in Harrow, as well as cannabis factories and it helped us to assess which houses needed additional lagging.
I ensured we followed the Giuliani approach in cleaning up our borough – taking the view that graffiti and unkempt areas were more likely to encourage crime. Furthermore we took a public health approach in micro-targeting specific areas and seeking to intervene to turn them around. Finally we pioneered the Neighbourhood Champions scheme, by which local volunteers were trained to report problems in their communities. All of these decisions were taken in the face of furious condemnation. All of them made a genuinely positive difference to Harrow.
My political hero, Margaret Thatcher, was loved and hated alike throughout her time as Prime Minister. She still is. And while those of us who recognise that she dragged “the sick man of Europe” off its knees and transformed our country for the better might feel a sense of frustration that not everyone agrees with that analysis, the reality is that it doesn’t actually matter terribly much. What’s important is the achievement, not the fact that so many are still blinded to it. Appropriately, Margaret Thatcher’s great friend, President Ronald Reagan, had on his desk in the Oval Office a plaque with the words: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”
I won’t pretend that our greatest post-war Prime Minister wasn’t happy to take the credit, but she was also happy to take the brickbats. Famously she said: “If they attack you personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” Furthermore, that divisiveness is not just a matter of historical disagreement, it was key to Margaret Thatcher’s success.
Often, the voting public will reward leaders who show that they are clear about what they are trying to achieve and indefatigable in their efforts to achieve it. Just as Margaret Thatcher was clear about both the disease with which the UK economy was afflicted and the medicine that was needed to cure it, Boris Johnson knows that we need to deliver a proper Brexit and has shown that he is ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to ensure it happens. Unsurprisingly, some people love him for it and others have been driven puce with rage. Nevertheless, having agreed a deal with the European Union that has overwhelming support from both Leave voters and Conservative voters, I’ll offer three predictions:
1 Boris will get that deal through Parliament, allowing the UK to finally leave the EU.
2 When the House of Commons finally gives in and allows a General Election. Boris will lead the Conservatives to a strong majority.
3 A great many of those who are most angry or upset about the UK leaving the EU will come to turns with it and, even if they never learn to love the PM, will eventually come to respect his dedication to upholding the referendum result.
As the old saying goes: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” Politicians shouldn’t try to please everyone. They should focus on doing what needs to be done and feel confident that sufficient members of the public will back them. It doesn’t matter if millions hate Marmite, so long as a few million more love it.
Susan Hall is a London Assembly Member and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group. Follow her on twitter: @Councillorsuzie