The pros and cons of Boris the business secretary

The Mayor of London finally confirmed what everyone already knew: he's going to run for Parliament. But would the blond-mopped Tory make a good business secretary?

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 01 Oct 2014

Boris Johnson stole a march on every other politician who wanted a crack at the headlines today, following up an out-and-out Eurosceptic speech yesterday with confirmation of what everyone already knew - that he’s going to have a crack at running for Parliament.

Despite BoJo adding in an armful of caveats - ‘It is highly likely that I will be unsuccessful in that venture, by the way. You should never underestimate the possibility of things going badly wrong’ - he’s pretty much a shoe-in for whichever Tory safe seat he plumps for.

Which means, of course, that everyone and their aunt is speculating over if and when Boris will run for Conservative leader and, eventually, Prime Minister - for example, if David Cameron loses next year’s election. If Dave does hold onto the keys to Number 10, though, Boris will be wanting to get some ministerial experience under his straining belt and the Telegraph has already tipped him to become business secretary once he finally steps down as Mayor of London in 2016. But would he make a good successor to Dr Cable?

Pros

1.  He loves the limelight

The Mayor of London is nothing if not media-savvy - he was editor of The Spectator after all. He was the London Olympics’ most enthusiastic cheerleader, even if that did involve him getting suspended on a zipwire like a podgy scarecrow. Businesses, then, would have no shortage of effervescent promotion were BoJo to be their minister.

2.  He’s pro-City

Boris has also been a megaphone warrior for the capital’s beleaguered financiers, fighting their corner when all other politicians appeared to have abandoned them to the wolves of populism. With big businesses in general under the cosh of public opinion, he could be just the spur they need to come out from under the parapet.

3.  He’s done good for small businesses

From talking up London’s startup scene at Silicon Roundabout to championing small business contracts at the Olympics, Boris has been pretty good at giving the capital’s small companies a helping hand. And with the UK’s smaller firms often baffled by the byzantine maze of government bodies that deal with things like entrepreneur funding and export help, having a straight talker like him at the helm wouldn’t be a bad shout.

Cons

1.  He hogs the limelight

Wherever Boris goes, headlines follow. Except they tend to be about him and not his policies. Can anyone name anything the old Etonian has done as Mayor of London, save for Boris Bikes and the London Olympics (both of which should really be credited to Ken Livingstone)? Businesses may get a cheerleader, but he could be too busy bumbling around in front of cameras to actually get on with the job of selling Britain.

2.  He’s a fan of vanity projects

The capital’s hire bikes seem to have given Boris a taste for things with his name appended to them. And his determined support for a ‘Boris Island’ airport in the Thames Estuary definitely looks like the crowing of a politician with an eye on their legacy rather than a considered policy. Businesses need concrete, sensible ideas, not Boris-themed pies in the sky.

3.  He’s Eurosceptic

This is probably the biggest issue with having BoJo responsible for business, given he’s almost certainly gunning for the Conservative leadership and a recent ConservativeHome poll of Tory members found more than three-quarters support leaving the EU.

‘When you look at the cost of EU social policy, the stagnation of the EU economies, the continuing absurdities of some Brussels regulation, we are plainly getting to the stage where it might well be better to quit an unreformed EU than to stay in,’ he wrote in the Telegraph at the weekend.

While it would be deluded to deny the EU has its issues - the rise of the far right in many countries is testament to that - leaving wouldn’t do anyone, least of all businesses, any good. And pandering to UKIP and its supporters by indulging in Euroscepticism risks tipping the UK onto a slippery slope out of Europe, rather than catalysing the sort of sensible debate about reform the EU so desperately needs.

Of course, if Cameron is prime minister after the next election and really wants to make sure Boris gets nowhere near a leadership challenge, he could do worse than appoint him to the poisoned chalice of the Home Office and stir up a few immigration scandals while he's at it.

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