Boris pledges loyalty to PM – but refuses to stick to script
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Tuesday 09 October 2012
Boris Johnson took the Conservative Party Conference by storm last night as he professed his loyalty to David Cameron but urged the Government to launch a huge housebuilding programme.
The irrepressible Mayor of London told an ecstatic packed fringe meeting of about 1,500 Tory activists that the party was doing "a fantastic job" in government and was on course to win a majority at the 2015 election once the economy recovered.
But he called for the Government to do more to build houses for the many thousands of middle income families earning between £30,000 to £64,000 who could not afford to buy homes in London. Recalling that the Tories won elections when they built houses, he said: "We need to look after their interests."
He backed a return of grammar schools, which is not government policy, and spoke out against plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport. "It is not going to happen. We need a better solution," he said, calling for expansion at Stansted or a new Thames Estuary airport. He admitted that his views put him "at variance" with national policy but vowed: "I am going to continue to lobby for a long overdue solution to our airport capacity problems."
Mr Johnson tried to play down speculation that he was manoeuvring to be the next Tory leader. "No one should have any cause to doubt my admiration of David Cameron," he said, pointing out that he urged Mr Cameron to run for the party's top job in 2005 as one of his early supporters.
The man who won two mayoral victories in a Labour-leaning city said there was no magic formula to win the General Election but said the Tories must "remain a One Nation party plonked squarely in the middle of British politics".
Last night, Mr Johnson was given a rock star's welcome and standing ovation before he had started speaking, at the ConservativeHome event billed as: "Boris 2012 Rally: Re-elected and Olympo-tastic."
But, looking back at the Olympic Games which put him centre stage this summer, Mr Johnson insisted he was "the biggest harvester of undeserved credit". He announced that armed services would continue to enjoy free Tube travel if they were in uniform.
Mr Johnson was mobbed by photographers and TV cameramen as he arrived at Birmingham New Street station. Passers-by chanted "Boris! Boris!". During another media scrum at the Hyatt Hotel, he was asked if he was there to make trouble for Mr Cameron. "I'm here to support the party," he replied.
Although Cameron allies insisted they were relaxed about the London Mayor's Show, ministers were worried that he might again eclipse the Prime Minister, as he did during the Olympics. Mr Johnson will address the full conference today.
But there was irritation that he had accused the Government of ignoring the "squeezed middle" championed by Ed Miliband.
Kenneth Clarke, minister without portfolio, urged Mr Johnson to "settle down" and prove he could deliver on some complicated issues. He told Channel 4 News: "At the moment, it's terribly fashionable to see Boris as an aspirant prime minister-to-be – I'd have thought its disastrous for Boris unless he gets it under control – it isn't going to go anywhere and by next year it will have gone out of fashion."
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