BoJo ready to gogo?
Boris is back. We shall see him on the campaign trail in the run-up to this month’s local and European elections.
He’s signed up to national tours with David Cameron between the autumn and next May’s general election.
He and the prime minister exchange text messages on a daily basis. They speak at least once every week. But their conversations never focus on the question on everyone’s lips: is Boris returning to the Commons as an MP?
Cameron and Johnson talked explicitly about this last September, slightly ahead of the party conference. The PM made it clear at the time that he’d welcome Boris back to parliament.
He meant it. But they agreed at the time that the decision would rest with Boris. Since then he’s been weighing up his future. The decision, I am reliably assured, has not yet been finalised. But your columnist fully expects to see Boris return.
And the decision will be announced within weeks and possibly with David Cameron at his side.
Yet Johnson is still in something of a quandary.
He has repeatedly said being London mayor is the best job in the world. I think he means what he says.
Spend time with him and you see the pride he feels in running the world’s great capital city. Not only that, but the potential for even greater growth and success seems to him to be limitless.
He thinks wistfully of a third term in office and in some moments dismisses a return to Westminster as a “distraction” from the thrill of running London.
Just a quick glance at his inbox reveals a man with both hands full and his eyes focused on a horizon which goes on for some years. He’s overseeing a major report into how London would benefit or take a hit if Britain pulls out of the EU. This must be submitted by June. In October, he’s due to deliver a complex plan on infrastructure for the capital up until 2050.
There’s the Davies commission on a third runway at Heathrow to be completed – said by friends to be the only area on which he has disagreement with Cameron.
And he’s also toiling away on a labour of love – a book on Winston Churchill which reappraises the wartime leader’s legacy.
This is due to hit the bookshelves in October, just as the Conservative Party meets for the last time before the general election. Canny. Conversations with Cameron and others at the top of the Tory party have been ongoing since last September about how to finesse the future.
All are agreed the most important thing to achieve is to clear up confusion about Boris’s future. It’s not good for Boris, it’s not good for the premier, and it’s not good for the Tories. Whatever his decision – we shall know during the next few weeks and months. Before party conference begins.
But the current thinking in both No10 and the mayor’s office is that Boris will stand in a safe seat in May next year. Feelers are out as to where and who might be persuaded to step aside. Not only that, but plans are already being drawn up for him to play a significant cheer-leading role in the general election campaign. Boris has signed up to a number of tours of the country – with two events a month under consideration. Some will be hand-in-hand with Cameron in a show of unity.
He is the Conservative Party’s biggest fundraiser by far. He attracts big money and the Tories need loot like never before.
Especially if, as is possible, Mr Cameron rules out running a second coalition government post May and seeks a second general election in 2016. Then, he’ll need a bigger war chest.
A lot of work has gone on under the radar to establish how Boris’ next move should be choreographed – if he decides to return to parliament. Polls are consistently clear: Londoners would have no objection to his doing both jobs. The recent and future trips out of London to the north of England are part of a road-test to establish just how popular he really is away from his heartland.
Not everyone will be happy. There is no doubt that Michael Gove and others who support George Osborne will see the return of Boris as a considerable threat.
On one level, they should welcome Boris back. His rock star charisma can’t fail to charm voters who see politicians as a turn-off. And mixed with the chancellor’s growing reputation for economic stewardship and political guts, it’s a formidable combination which can only help the Conservative cause.
But a number of Conservative MPs are less-than-enamoured with Boris. For one so remarkably popular outside Westminster, he’s perhaps not worked as hard as he might to charm the backbenches on whose support he might one day count for an even bigger promotion.
George Pascoe-Watson is a partner at Portland Communications