How I witnessed Boris Johnson’s star quality during his visit to Leeds - Stephen Naylor

NINE years ago, Boris Johnson was in Leeds just days before the General Election. I was with him, organising and supporting the Yorkshire leg of a visit that saw the then London Mayor backing the Conservatives campaign in his own unique way.

Boris Johnson visiting Leeds in 2010 during the General Election campaign.

As someone who then worked for the party, and had been dealing with visits from senior politicians day in day out for weeks, this one stood out. And now, as Boris stands just weeks from being this country’s next Prime Minister – barring an implosion which would make Hillary Clinton’s look tame – I’ve been reflecting on why.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

To say he’s a Marmite figure does a disservice to that yeast-based spread. Some people absolutely adore him. Some people absolutely can’t stand him. But everyone knows him. Everyone has a view.

Boris Johnson visiting Leeds in 2010 during the General Election campaign.

And in today’s world, where the power of celebrity rules and politicians are judged by the number of followers on Twitter rather than how many rousing speeches on issues of substance they give, that matters.

Even back in 2010, when Boris bounded across Millennium Square, interrupted diners’ lunches in Nando’s and strode purposely through The Light, the reaction was one I hadn’t encountered with a politician before – and didn’t in all my time working on the front line.

It was one of intrigue, one of fascination, one of wanting to shake his hand and have a selfie with a star.

Boris Johnson visiting Leeds in 2010 during the General Election campaign.

Because, like it or not, Boris is a star – you don’t ascend to the ranks of being known by a single name without being one. He has a quality that means people connect with him. He did that in London to win the Mayoralty, he did it in Leeds on that April day, he does it everywhere.

Many politicians, commentators and establishment figures can’t understand why he’s on the brink of Number 10. But it’s for the same reason many of those same people don’t understand why people voted to leave the European Union.

It’s because so many of them live in a bubble, never leaving the M25, never having to experience the ‘delight’ of a Pacer or be packed liked sardines on a late running trans-Pennine train.

They don’t realise how so many hard-working, unrecognised and ignored people there are in this country who are fed up with being told what to think and that they aren’t clever enough to decide what’s best for them.

Now, let’s not lose sight of the irony that their hopes rest with someone whose background is the epitome of what many say they despise. But, just like Nigel Farage, Boris taps into something which few do. And if politics is a game (and it is, just one with incredibly high stakes) then they are examples of those who play it long and play it brilliantly.

But, back to that day in Leeds, and after haranguing the innocent shoppers and diners of Leeds, we went with Boris to Asda’s headquarters. And, again, the same story – genuine fascination and interest from the staff of the man in their midst. I’ve stood alongside many a senior politician on these visits, I’ve seen the faces of employees who’ve turned up to listen because of a diktat, but not this time. They knew Boris was worth giving up their break for.

And while I tore my hair out as he told them his favourite thing about Yorkshire was his secretary, you couldn’t help but smile at his stories or his manner. Boris clearly has a quality. He’s clearly a clever man. He clearly knows how to act in a way that gets people on side. But should he be our next Prime Minister? Is he up to the job?

I have concerns. I worry that by appealing to all people when you campaign in poetry, the government of prose is impossible to live up to. I don’t see how he can deliver a Brexit solution that pleases every part of his fragile coalition. I fear that he’s not exactly impressed when on the biggest stages in some of the biggest roles.

But I’m open minded. When you look at a government that has been paralysed over the past year, you reflect if anything could be worse. And what no one should dismiss is that for a great number of people, he’s someone who connects. With them, with their concerns, with their lives. For in an era when we hear frequently that ‘all politicians are the same’, here is someone who most definitely isn’t.

Boris reaches the parts others can’t. He may implode in the weeks ahead, but I doubt it. So, when he crosses the threshold of Downing Street in July, much like when he bounded into Leeds on April 26, 2010, people will notice, people will be fascinated, and people will watch and listen. It’ll be a bumpy ride but we write him off, and those who support him, at our peril.

And at a time when polls show ‘don’t know’ is the most popular choice as Prime Minister, here is someone who you can’t fail to have an opinion on. Boris may not be the Prime Minister many want or that we deserve, but he may be the Prime Minister we need. Whatever though, he’s almost certainly the Prime Minister we’ll get.

Stephen Naylor is a Brighouse-based communications and political strategist.