In the wake of Boris Johnson's train wreck interview on the Andrew Marr Show, much has been said about both Boris' future and the rights and wrongs of Eddie Mair's questioning style. But I think the major issue thrown up by the interview has yet to be discussed: whether or not Boris Johnson has what it takes to be the leader of a major party and what the interview on Sunday said about those ambitions.
Boris was clearly caught off guard by Mair's Paxmanesque, attack dog approach. To some degree this is understandable. Boris is used to being given a light hand by the British press, who tend to treat him as light entertainment. This isn't Boris' fault, his supporters would argue. In defence of the man, one need only look at the early performances of both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband with the press immediately after they assumed the leadership of their respective parties. There were growing pains, but eventually both men grew to be able to handle the tough questions that come with being the leader of a major party. Boris could get used to it in time too, chime his followers. But what Boris has that the other two aforementioned individuals didn't have at the time was shedloads of media experience. You would have expected Boris to have handled a tough line of questioning a lot better than he did given his years of being in the limelight.
Even if you concede, however, that being the leader of a major party is a unique media situation and therefore it is unfair to judge Boris by the standards of an experience he has yet to face, you're still left with one major problem. One which may turn out to be insurmountable for Boris. What I felt I witnessed on Sunday morning was the uncomfortable rubbing together of Boris the ambitious wannabe leader of the Tories and Boris the game show host, the latter persona being the one that most Britons know and love. In order to take on the weight of what Mair was throwing at Boris, he would have had to have stepped out of his cuddly teddy bear costume and shown what he was really made of. He didn't, instinctively I thought, because in doing so he would have been showing the public that he was exactly what they don't really want him to be - a real politician. So criticise Boris' performance all you want but in reality he was probably right, in raw political terms, to have weathered the Mair storm and not shown his darker side. At least for the time being.
Which is where I'll end this - what is the future for Boris Johnson? If he wants to be leader of the Conservative party, he'll have to show he's serious about what he'd like to do with the country were he to become prime minister. For a party that sees itself as the natural one of government, this is the least any potential leader needs to demonstrate. But in doing so, Boris would risk alienating his adoring public, the one who loves seeing Boris standing head and shoulders above all that boring politics stuff. And that, as I see it, is Boris Johnson's number one problem of he's serious about becoming the leader of the Conservative party.