Boris Johnson is on the look-out for a ring-leader in parliament for his push against the expansion of Heathrow, I understand. His people have been calling around sympathetic backbench MPs trying to persuade one of them to head up the campaign in the Commons.
On first glance, Zac Goldsmith might have been an obvious choice, given his talks with the Mayor of London about a by-election in his seat if the government does U-turn on a third runway. But Boris wants someone who is less of an individual within the party who can co-ordinate backbenchers in a revolt. Presumably he also needs an MP who can spearhead not just the aviation campaign in the Commons, but also aid Boris’ return to parliament from within if Goldsmith does leave in a blaze of fury.
One plotter suggested to me that Bob Neill, sacked last week as a local government minister, might make a good rebel leader on this matter. The Bromley and Chislehurst MP was angry to lose his job in the reshuffle, and Boris may wish to channel that anger and use Neill to his advantage. The Mayor might also be interested in who the 14 backbenchers are who have written to 1922 committee chairman Graham Brady to demand a leadership contest to oust Cameron.
What will be telling will be whether Boris also approaches Labour MPs opposed to a third runway. Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell, for instance, would be an obvious person to contact about a campaign on the matter if the Mayor wanted to make this a powerful cross-party campaign. Limiting his inquiries to those on the Conservative benches would suggest that this is about so much more than just airports.
P.S. If you’re trying to work out what sort of leader Boris might be if he did make it back into parliament and oust Cameron, you must read Hugo Rifkind’s column in this week’s Spectator. He calls Boris a ‘Trojan horse; smuggling beneath that thatch a whole political stance the electorate wouldn’t countenance from anybody else’.
UPDATE, 5.30pm: Bob Neill emails to say he is definitely not going to be Boris’ man in Parliament:
Tags: Airports, Boris, Conservatives, Heathrow, UK politics
‘This rumour has no basis in fact and the Government has my full support in seeking to expand our aviation capacity in line with the commitments set out in the Coalition’s Programme for Government, and on the basis of evidence. It is also nonsense to suggest that I was ‘angry’ about last week’s reshuffle. I had a very positive and friendly conversation with the Prime Minister and I made it absolutely clear that he will have my full support both as an active backbencher, and as the Conservative Party’s Vice Chairman for Local Government.’