Is Boris Johnson about to announce his intention to stand at the next general election? The well-connected Jason Groves reports today that Boris will make clear his plans before the Tory conference and that his friends expect him to run for parliament but stay as Mayor of London. I think this would be a mistake for Boris, a move that would make him less likely to end up as Tory leader and Prime Minister one day.
First, Boris was clear in the campaign that he wouldn’t try to return to the Commons before 2016:
‘If I am fortunate enough to win I will need four years to deliver what I have promised. And having put trust at the heart of this election, I would serve out that term in full.
‘I made a solemn vow to Londoners to lead them out of recession, bring down crime and deliver the growth, investment and jobs that this city so desperately needs. Keeping that promise cannot be combined with any other political capacity.’
It is hard to see where the wiggle room is in this statement. If he stood in 2015, he would be breaking his word — never a good look for a politician.
Second, there’s the fact that he doesn’t need to stand this time round if he is to become leader. If the Tories win in 2015, there won’t be a leadership contest until after the EU referendum in 2017. This gives Boris plenty of time to get back into the Commons. But even if they lose, a Tory leadership contest without Boris would be so absurd that it simply wouldn’t happen. Indeed, I suspect that in the event of a contest there would be several Tory MPs prepared to make way for Boris.
Boris is a unique politician. He is the only mainstream politician to have risen above the current anti-politics mood. He is also a Tory with a proven ability to reach out to those who don’t normally vote Tory; Boris got 45 per cent of first preference votes in 2012 compared to the 32 per cent that the Tories garnered in the London-wide assembly seats. But he would be an even more formidable political figure if he surprised the political class and kept his promise to stay as Mayor only until the end of his term. It would show that he isn’t another self-serving politician, that he keeps his promises even when it is inconvenient for him.