Pick of the Week: Boris Johnson’s darker side
Our top five most-read articles this week, for your reading pleasure.
"I just wondered if you have got plans for a new job after next week when you become unemployed and your party becomes an irrelevance?" As opening questions to politicians go, this one from a member of the Question Time audience last night to Nick Clegg was particularly brutal. Yet the Lib Dem leader handled the scathing attacks on him last night with relatively good humour and political skill. As a result he emerged from the wreckage looking rather more human than either Cameron or Miliband. Opinion polls suggest that next week's elections are set to be at the very least a near-death experience for the Lib Dems and their leader. Last night's performance suggests that he's still got some fight left in him yet.
What will the Tories do if they fail to win a majority in the general election? Current forecasts suggest they're unlikely to be able to hold on either as a minority government or in coalition. But even if they lose the numbers battle, might they win the wider war? Over the past few weeks they have been preparing for a new battle of legitimacy in the public mind in order to lock Ed Miliband and Labour out of Downing Street. Might they just be able to pull it off?
Miliband's decision to rule out any deal with the SNP will make it significantly harder for him to form any kind of stable government. The Labour leader was forced into doing so because of persistent questions from the Conservatives. Yet these questions will not go away no matter how many assurances Miliband makes. After ruling out a formal coalition and a supply and confidence arrangement, the Tories are now asking him to rule out any vote-by-vote deals with the SNP. This is highly disingenuous. The reality is that it would be impossible for Miliband to prevent the SNP from voting alongside Labour, even if he wanted to. What they are really asking him to do is rule out forming any kind of minority government at all. This is a ludicrous proposition.
Of course the only reason this has become an issue is because of Labour's almost unbelievable collapse in Scotland. If it had not been for this collapse, this election would be all but over and Ed Miliband would have been pretty much certain of becoming PM. Instead he's clinging on to the hope that he'll somehow be able to govern as the leader of a minority party backed by an anti-Tory majority. The causes of the collapse in Scotland are deep-rooted and not merely restricted to Labour's ill-fated role alongside the Conservatives in the independence referendum campaign. But if Scottish Labour had hoped that their new leader Jim Murphy could hold back the tide, they will have been heavily disappointed. Far from stopping, let alone reversing, the SNP surge, Murphy has overseen a further collapse of the Labour party north of the border, with one poll this week suggesting they could even lose every single one of their MPs in Scotland. If that does happen, then Murphy will have to take his own share of the blame.
As one star fades, another rises. The emergence of Boris Johnson as the most likely next leader of the Conservative party has been long-coming, but what do we really know about the man behind the amiable facade? His appearance on the Andrew Marr show last weekend revealed a darker and weaker side to his character that not many people outside of his opponents at City Hall have seen before. It also revealed the limitations of his political skills. In a straight up battle between the London mayor and Ed Miliband on the Marr sofa, Boris came off significantly worse. This matters because within a matter of days we could see a new leadership contest begin in the Conservative party. This was not a fatal blow to Boris's ambitions but at the very least it will have raised some serious questions among his supporters about whether he is really up to the job of leading his party and, more importantly, the country.