I have no idea how Margaret Thatcher would have voted in the current Conservative leadership contest, had she been alive. Given that she is not with us, no one knows for sure, though I doubt if that will stop some claiming they know. My purpose here is not to speculate on that, but rather to reflect on how, if he becomes Prime Minister, Boris Johnson will be the polar opposite of the longest serving premier in modern British history.
Margaret Thatcher was raised as a Lincolnshire Methodist. She was conscientious in fulfilling commitments. John Whittingdale has spoken of the occasions when the PM’s motorcade had to wait in lay-bys because she had insisted setting off so early that they had to kill time before their scheduled arrival. She was concerned for those around her. Anyone ill or in trouble would be comforted in person or receive a personal message.
She was frugal with finances and applied her approach to home budgeting to the national budget. As a political leader, she had clear future goals and pursued them with vigour. (In my typology of prime ministers, she was an innovator.) The motivation was essentially one of public, not self, service and pursuit of her goals gave rise to an eponymous philosophy. She was devoted to politics. She had no real hinterland.
She embraced the puritan work ethic and was always on top of her brief and expected her ministers to be as well. A workaholic, she famously survived on only four hours of sleep a night. She spent hours preparing for Prime Minister’s Question Time. To quote one of her Cabinet colleagues, ‘She did not understand Parliament, though she thought she did, but she took it seriously’. Woe betide any minister or official who had not supplied adequate material needed for PMQs.
What is notable is how none of the foregoing applies to Boris Johnson. Substitute his name for that of Margaret Thatcher and it doesn’t work. Take each point and the opposite applies to him.
Who then does he resemble as party leader? It is possibly an unfair question in that, like Margaret Thatcher, he is a one-off. The closest parallels are possibly Disraeli in terms of showmanship and exploiting opportunities and Arthur Balfour in terms of detachment and political flexibility. From a party point of view, the hope must be that he is more of a Disraeli than a Balfour. Disraeli saved the Tory party by making it a national party. Balfour was prone to develop cunning plans, with about the same success as Baldrick.
Is there another leader I have missed that he resembles?