I’ve lost count of the number of column inches outlining a new low in relations between David Cameron and his long-time rival Boris Johnson. Every few months, Johnson says or writes something at odds with Cameron and official Conservative policy—whether it’s lowering the top rate of tax or calling for a tougher approach to the EU.
His latest opportunistic salvo comes against the backdrop of the riots:
“If you ask me whether I think there is a case for cutting police budgets in the light of these events, then my answer to that would be no. I think that case was always pretty frail, and it has been substantially weakened.” Thus spake Boris on Wednesday morning’s Today programme. It was a blatant piece of insurrection on Johnson’s part which has no doubt left Cameron furious.
The likelihood is the Mayor will quieten down for a bit, but it would be a mistake to under-estimate his ruthless ambition. For years Johnson tried to hide it by impersonating a character out of PG Wodehouse (I once witnessed him at a party conference event walking round the block in order to be late and ruffling his hair to look scruffy). But in recent months, he has been cultivating a more serious image, as he knows he must if he is ever to fulfill his real ambition to be prime minister.
Having agonised over whether to run for a second term as Mayor, when really he craves a Commons return, Johnson has now plunged his energies into being re-elected. As Prospect reports this month, he has set up a campaign office in Mayfair run by the Tory strategist Linton Crosby, and few Westminster observers doubt that he will win next May. Private polling conducted in Labour circles is said to show considerable numbers of Labour-inclined voters who will not back the Mayoral candidate forced on Ed Miliband before he became leader: Ken Livingstone.
So next year the strong likelihood is that the twice-directly-elected Johnson will remain one of the most powerful Tories in the country. He will then doubtless make the most of the international publicity generated during the Olympics in the capital.
What then? Tory advisers believe he will try to obtain a safe seat before the general election, possibly around London while remaining the capital’s Mayor, at least for a period of months. But he will have to be careful. Cameron may have problems in his parliamentary party, but he remains more popular than Johnson on the green benches. The mayor’s future may depend on his ability to show some consistent loyalty to his party and, much as it may grate, to the Prime Minister. If that is beyond him, he will, like Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Michael Portillo and possibly David Miliband, fall into the distinguished group of former future prime ministers.
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