Tories divided over Boris Johnson’s ambitions of leadership

 

Deputy Political Editor

Eton-educated Tories are treating control of the country “like a play thing” to be passed on between them, a senior Conservative has claimed.

Mark Pritchard spoke out amid fresh speculation over the ambitions of the Mayor of London to succeed his fellow Old Etonian as Tory leader.

He tweeted: “Inside and outside of Parliament people are fed up of Old Etonians thinking they can pass on No10 like some sort of play thing or baton.”

Mr Pritchard, a former secretary of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, will irritate Downing Street as it battles accusations it is a run by a cabal of men from elite public schools.

It fiercely denied a report last week that a group of Old Etonians would mainly be responsible for writing the party’s 2015 general election manifesto.

Mr Johnson’s future intentions were thrown in the spotlight on Saturday when it was claimed George Osborne had delivered a message to Mr Johnson challenging him to stand for Parliament in 2015.

The Chancellor’s move was reportedly designed to force him to prove his loyalty to Mr Cameron by tieing the Mayor’s political fate to the Tories’ election performance.

The Mail on Sunday quoted a Johnson ally accusing Mr Osborne of trying to “destabilise Boris”.

Senior Conservatives sought on Sunday to cool the clash between two men who are seen as potential successors to Mr Cameron.

The party chairman, Grant Shapps, told BBC 1’s Andrew Marr Show it would be “crazy” for the Mayor not to be involved in the election campaign because he is “a guy who is able to communicate incredibly well”.

Mr Shapps would not be drawn on whether Mr Johnson should stand as an MP, but added that he had “a little way to go” as the Mayor’s term in office runs until 2016.

A Conservative source said: “Boris will play a big role in the election campaign. He has got name recognition and is a great asset. We have no view either way whether he stands as an MP.”

A friend of the Mayor said: “Boris’ focus is on London. It was in 2012, when he stood for a second term, it will be in 2016 when he finishes that term.”

Jon Ashworth, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “The Chancellor is spending his time fighting with Boris Johnson like ferrets in a sack over a Tory leadership vacancy after the next election.

“Senior Tories should be getting to grips with the cost-of-living crisis facing ordinary families, not putting their own interests first.”

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