An era ends at 'The Sextator' as Johnson chooses politics over journalism

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Indy Politics

Boris Johnson, the colourful editor of The Spectator magazine, is giving up the post to return to frontline politics and become the Conservative Party's higher education spokesman.

Mr Johnson, who has tried to juggle the two roles of journalist and politician, has opted for politics after the election of his friend David Cameron, a fellow Old Etonian and Oxford graduate, as Tory leader this week.

Although Mr Johnson's new post is outside the Shadow Cabinet, it is an important one. Mr Cameron has ditched the policy on which the Tories fought the May election, when they opposed Labour's decision to bring in university top-up fees. Mr Johnson, who privately disagreed with his party's line, will now have to draw up a credible new policy embracing fees.

"I am very happy, I have had a long-standing interest in this area," he said last night. Admirers of the 41-year-old MP for Henley will be watching with interest to see whether his revived frontbench career lasts longer than it did last time.

His rise up the political ladder came to an abrupt halt in November last year when Michael Howard sacked him as the Tories' arts spokesman and vice-chairman. Tory officials claimed the married father of four had been less than frank in dismissing as "inverted pyramid of piffle" press reports about his relationship with Petronella Wyatt, a Spectator columnist and daughter of the late Lord Wyatt.

Mr Johnson was already on thin ice after being sent to Liverpool by Mr Howard to apologise for an editorial that was published in The Spectator accusing the city of being "hooked on grief" after the killing of the British hostage Ken Bigley in Iraq.

Although he boosted the right-wing magazine's circulation to a record 70,000 during his six years as editor, it was dubbed "The Sextator" after its publisher Kimberley Quinn's affair with David Blunkett culminated in his resignation as Home Secretary a year ago after allegations that the Home Office speeded up a visa application by her nanny.

Mr Johnson, an occasional host of BBC TV's Have I Got News for You? programme, concentrated on his media career after the setback to his political one. Friends advised him that he would not be able to do both at once, and it was clear which way he would jump. "If I had to choose, I would choose politics," he told Radio 4's Desert Island Discs programme earlier this year. "All politicians in the end are like crazed wasps in a jam jar, each individually convinced that they are going to make it. My ambition silicon chip has been programmed to try to scramble up this ladder, so I do feel a kind of sense that I have got to."

He will stand down as Spectator editor shortly after its Christmas edition has gone to press. The magazine, owned by the Barclay Brothers, will be edited by his deputy Stuart Reid until a new editor is appointed.

He was less forthcoming about how he intended to develop Tory policy on higher education. "I've got to be careful," he said. "This is a fantastic job and I am thrilled to be given the chance to do it. It is also a very hard job to do properly. It will mean a lot of time and thought."

Mr Cameron has continued to assemble his team. He appointed Owen Paterson as shadow transport minister, John Hayes shadow minister for vocational education and Stephen O'Brien was shadow health minister.

In his own words

* On his future political career

"My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive."

* On Tony Blair

"It is just flipping unbelievable. He is a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet. He is barely human in his elusiveness. Nailing Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall."

* After being sacked by the then Tory leader, Michael Howard because he lied about his affair with the Deputy Editor of 'The Spectator', Petronella Wyatt

"This story about my private life is fundamentally ancient. What can I say? God. It's been a bad evening."

* On "Operation Scouse-grovel", after he published an article accusing Liverpudlians of "wallowing" in victimhood, following the death of Ken Bigley

"It may be there are welfare-addicted Liverpudlians who answer to the characteristics we described but it was wounding and wrong to suggest that this stereotype could be applied to the city as a whole."