Since Boris Johnson is the UK’s second most widely recognised politician, any hint he drops about his future will start a flurry of speculation. Today, he replied to a question on LBC’s radio phone-in programme about whether he would run for a third term as Mayor of London. “I won’t deny it, it is something I think about and something that I’ve even talked to friends about,” he said.
This small hint that London’s Mayor might let go of his outside chance of being Prime Minister to dedicate himself to running the capital had headline writers in a spin, and inspired Ladbrokes to offer odds of 2-1 to any punter who wants to throw money away by backing Johnson to win the 2016 mayoral election. But to understand what he was saying, look at the context. Minutes earlier, the Mayor had batted away a question about whether he is after David Cameron’s job by stressing how focused he is on what he is doing now and how much he enjoys it. He could scarcely go straight from there to declaring that he has already fixed his departure date.
Having implied that he might be up for a 12-year stretch in City Hall, he immediately qualified it by saying: “The reality is that after eight years you’ve been at it for a long time in a very big job. You see what happens to people who do things for too long …The truth is, I’m stepping down in 2016. After that, who knows what will happen?”
Some people wonder if he will even stay that long, if the offer of a safe seat comes his way before the 2015 general election, because if the Conservatives are defeated and David Cameron steps down, Johnson will need to be in the Commons to join the race to be the next Conservative leader.
But I’m told by someone who worked closely with him that he will do his full term as Mayor, confident that even if Cameron decided that he had to step down, he would hold off long enough to make sure that Johnson was in a position to be a contender.
Otherwise, he would risk the lasting resentment in parts of the Conservative Party that they were forced to have a leadership election from which the nation’s favourite Tory was barred from standing. But as the Mayor sagely said, who knows what will happen?
Mr Gove jokes may stop if Mrs Gove joins Mail
It is reported that Sarah Vine, journalist wife of the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is being recruited by the Daily Mail to fill the hole left by the death in 2004 of that acerbic columnist Lynda Lee-Potter.
In her heyday, Lee-Potter struck fear into those on the receiving end of her barbs, such as Cherie Blair – who, according to Alastair Campbell, fussed over her wardrobe, fretting that Lee-Potter would call her frumpy.
However, if the rumoured appointment comes about, it will deny the Daily Mail a rich vein of humour it has exploited up to now at the expense of Michael Gove.
“Oh, Minister, what toe-curling secrets will your wife reveal about you next?” was the headline on one feature, which consisted of a list of revelations about the home life of the Goves, gleaned from Vine’s columns in The Times, including the assertion that “my husband is the worst driver in England, possibly in the western world” and the allegation that he read 1,000 pages of volume three of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson during the birth of their first child (which suggests a protracted labour or that Gove is a fast reader).
The Mail found amusement in Vine’s claim that her husband had offended Mick Jagger in a urinal by commenting disparagingly on the size of his penis. “When people ask Sarah why she is married to a man who calls himself ugly, she smiles broadly and says: ‘It wasn’t his big heart that first attracted me,’” an anonymous friend of Gove was quoted as saying.
That, as they say, is enough information.
Cameron brushes up his Blair speak
“Weak, weak, weak,” David Cameron said of Ed Miliband during today’s Commons exchange. It was not particularly original.
On 30 January 1997, with an election barely three months away, Tony Blair used those very words to taunt John Major for failing to mend the rift in his party over Europe. It shows, again, how hard Cameron tries to sound like Tony Blair.
You may notice, too, that he has stopped making jibes about how Ed Miliband did in his brother David’s political career. Depicting the Labour leader as a ruthless younger sibling does not fit with the new party line that Ed is weak.
Bercow’s failure to make (Tory) friends
Tory MPs just do not like the Speaker John Bercow, who used to be one of them but achieved his current exalted position by cultivating the support of Labour MPs.
Relations have not been helped by an incident on Monday, when somebody barracked the Labour MP Stella Creasy. The official Hansard record identifies the offender only as “An hon member”. Mr Bercow believed the culprit was the Tory Ian Liddell-Grainger and warned him: “If you can’t be quiet, get out. You are adding nothing and you are subtracting a lot. It is rude, it is stupid and it needs to stop... Whoever it was.” According to witnesses, it was not Mr Liddell-Grainger. It is being said that Alan Duncan, a minister for International Development, has privately owned up.
Eel the pain: the EU catches us out
I am mildly surprised to learn that there are EU rules on eel management. The UK is supposed to be rearing more than 3,000 tons of silver eels to maturity every year, but the Agriculture minister, Richard Benyon, admitted this week that the UK is achieving only 1,375 tons. The UK usually prides itself on fulfilling EU directives. In eel management, we have slipped up.