Boris standing as an MP is the silliest story of the silly season

Although that's not to say that it won't help Cameron's chances in the next election...

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The Independent Online

No sooner had I left the Palace of Westminster two weeks ago, with colleagues grumbling that there was “no news”, than things started to happen. “Has Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue relocated to Gowerton?” asked the South Wales Evening Post. Apparently someone had posted a photograph on the internet of a bit of hedge sticking up.

Barely had I had time to recover from this late attempt to get into my list of Questions To Which the Answer Is No than the Weston, Worle and Somerset Mercury revealed: “Toilet closure halts family day out.” Realising that my plans for a fortnight away from the maelstrom of 24-hour news were receding, I reluctantly discovered the hotel’s wi-fi password in order to keep abreast of the twists and turns that would change everything in politics by the time of my return.

Thus it was that I know of Alistair Darling’s unexpected triumph in his televised debate with Alex Salmond. I did not watch it – I was on holiday after all – but I got the gist, which was that Darling asked, rather mildly I gather, what the Scottish National Party’s back-up plan was if using another country’s currency after independence did not work out as fabulously as Salmond assured us it would.

Thus, too, I learned that Boris Johnson had said, a week ago, “The likelihood is that I will give it a crack”, as an MP in 2015. True, this last in particular was a silly-season story, puffed up to fill space in bulletins that would otherwise be overloaded with depressing news from abroad. Of course the Mayor of London was always going to return to the House of Commons in next year’s election. To hear it in his own colourful language, accompanied by a lot of hair-mussling, was jolly enough, but doesn’t really change much.

Compared with the news from South Wales and north Somerset, that from Glasgow and London may have been mere aftershocks, but it is now time to survey the landscape and assess the extent of the damage. One or two visitors to the British political scene, arriving yesterday as if from outer space, may have noticed Labour’s seven-point lead in an ICM opinion poll and may have concluded that the Prime Minister, like the First Minister of Scotland, had left it too late to stage the late surge that would ensure victory at the polls.


But I would advise caution. Indeed, I would advise the opposite interpretation. ICM’s is just one poll. There was also a four-point Labour lead in a YouGov poll yesterday, and the average in all polls is still a Labour lead of three points. This is a small cushion for an opposition with nine months to go.

More than that, I think that Salmond’s likely defeat in the referendum on independence next month and the return of Boris to national politics both strengthen David Cameron.

The Scottish vote will be momentous. Cameron was criticised for allowing it to happen, although it would have been foolish, as the Spanish government has discovered in its stand-off with Catalonia, to resist it. It was right in principle that the Scottish people should decide, and it was a good judgement that the argument for keeping the kingdom united was winnable.

Naturally, the gratitude of the voters in any part of the UK is likely to be limited if what is regarded in all parts of the UK as the “right” result is obtained. But yesterday’s finding that Scots have become more likely to think of themselves as British since the referendum campaign began is suggestive. It is possible that the nation will feel better about itself once the Scottish question is settled, and that Cameron will earn some credit for his leadership.

The Boris question is quite different, although it too has been written up as a dire threat to Cameron’s position. On the contrary, the charisma and oratory of The Only Popular Politician in Britain has been harnessed to the Prime Minister’s cause. He saw Boris coming and used the blond bull’s weight to pull his own chariot. The polls suggest that people have their doubts about Boris as a future prime minister, but before the election the Mayor is all asset and no liability to the Conservative cause. He is detoxification personified: socially liberal and culturally modern, whatever the ever-changing details of his pronouncements on immigration and Europe.

Cameron seems to have taken the shortest holiday possible, returning imminently to Downing Street. He returns to a scene in which, despite the turmoil of news breaking in the supposedly quiet weeks of August, he is perhaps surprisingly well placed for the contest ahead.