Apologetic Johnson praises 'Saint' Jamie

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Indy Politics

Boris Johnson hailed the chef Jamie Oliver as "the Messiah" of healthy eating, as the Conservative Party tried to defuse the row over its education spokesman's support for junk food.

David Cameron decided that Mr Johnson should not be sacked from the front bench for his latest gaffe. But the Tory leader used his speech at the Bournemouth conference yesterday to make it clear that patience with "Boris the Buffoon", as he is known by colleagues, is wearing thin.

"I know Boris is often saying things that we don't all agree with, but he has been doing an amazing job getting round our colleges and universities and building up our support. This is the Conservative Party, this isn't New Labour - we don't mind if people go off message, we love it actually." But, he added: "Just try not to do it all the time."

Mr Johnson has survived a scandal over an alleged affair with the journalist Petronella Wyatt, and has had to apologise frequently in the past for off-the-cuff remarks which breach party policy. He calls it "going off piste". But this week he openly contradicted his leader. Mr Cameron praised the chef's campaign for healthy school dinners at the start of the conference. At a fringe meeting a day later, Mr Johnson said he would "get rid of Jamie Oliver" and supported several South Yorkshire mothers who had passed pies and chips to pupils, saying: "Why shouldn't they push pies through railings?"

Yesterday, Mr Johnson, in characteristic style, went over the top again, this time praising the TV chef as a "saint" and a "Messiah" of good food. He also called himself "fatso" and "proud to be fat". He said: "I want to speak very much in support of this man."