Boris Johnson ‘considering running for London mayor’

Former aide Guto Harri says bid to oust Sadiq Khan would be ‘great idea’

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
,Archie Mitchell
Friday 16 June 2023 13:20 BST
'Never write Boris off': Liz Truss believes in former boss's political comeback

Boris Johnson is said to be considering an audacious independent bid to become London mayor for a second time after his exit from parliament and dramatic fall from grace in the Tory party.

The former prime minister is weighing up his next move outside Westminster after his fate was sealed by a damning report that found he deliberately and repeatedly lied to the Commons over Partygate.

Mr Johnson has been revealed as the “erudite” new Saturday columnist at the Daily Mail, offering a veiled warning to Rishi Sunak that he “may have to cover politics from time to time”.

And the Financial Times has reported that Mr Johnson could look to get his old job back in City Hall by running as an independent candidate to defeat Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.

Guto Harri, who served as a key aide to Mr Johnson in his last stint as London mayor, told The Independent that it would be a “great idea”.

The former No 10 communications director said he has not discussed the move with his old boss, but added: “London needs a powerful advocate with the profile, ambition, credibility and character to fight its corner and champion its cause.”

Baroness Camilla Cavendish, David Cameron’s former policy adviser, wrote in the FT: “I hear he is now considering standing as an independent in next year’s London mayoral election.”

She added: “The tragedy is that he was quite good at that job — and some of those on his honours list are people who worked for him then. He was just never able to rise to the heights required of a prime minister.”

Will Walden, Mr Johnson’s former communications director at City Hall, told The Independent: “Boris only runs for things if he knows he can win. Running might well split the Tory vote but running doesn’t equal winning.

Former PM considering his next move after damning Partygate verdict (Getty)

Mr Walden added: “I expect if there’s even a shred of truth in this then it’s more about limelight hogging than reality. Last time I looked Boris was still a Conservative. I’m not sure Tory members in London will look kindly on him running against their chosen candidate.”

Richard Barnes, the former deputy mayor of London under Mr Johnson, told LBC that trying to run for mayor again would be the act of “a desperate man”, adding: “You can go forwards, left or right, but you can’t go backwards.”

The Conservatives had already shortlisted three candidates for next year’s London mayoral contest: Susan Hall, Mozammel Hossain, and Daniel Korski. Mr Johnson’s former adviser and ally Samuel Kasumu missed out – with speculation he was blocked for his links to the ex-PM.

There are no restrictions on the number terms a London mayor can serve or number of times candidates can run. With the election taking place in May 2024, Mr Johnson would have until March 2024 to hand in his nomination papers.

Meanwhile, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) chair Lord Eric Pickles will be writing to Mr Johnson on his news job as a Mail columnist. Former ministers who have left in the last two years must apply to Acoba before taking up a new role.

It comes as Mr Johnson licks his wounds after the damning verdict of MPs on the privileges committee Partygate inquiry – who said they’d have recommended a 90-day suspension had he not already quit his seat to spite their expected sanction.

Senior Tory MP Damian Green said it will be “quite difficult” for Mr Johnson to return as a Tory candidate for the Commons in the future. Mr Green told BBC Radio 4’s Today that if he had offered a “more temperate” response to the committee it would be easier for him to made a comeback.

Boris Johnson could run in Nadine Dorries’ old seat, says ally (PA)

But Mr Johnson’s allies haven’t given up hope that he can find another seat to run at the general election in 2024 – or even before then.

David Campbell Bannerman, chairman of the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO), said Mr Johnson still stand in the Oxfordshire seat of Henley – or run in Nadine Dorries’ Mid-Bedfordshire seat once she formally quits in the weeks or months ahead.

“He is still an approved Conservative candidate – but is the party chairman and No 10 going to allow him to stand?” he told The Independent. “They would be unwise to stop him. He needs to get back in quickly, and MPs need to get real and see Sunak is not going to stop a wipe-out.”

Mr Bannerman dismissed the idea of Mr Johnson running as London mayor. “He was a very good mayor, but he has bigger fish to fry – we need him back as prime minister,” the Johnson ally said.

Mr Johnson is pondering whether to launch a series of appearances in the weeks ahead to “push his policy agenda”, according to The Telegraph. The Reform UK Party are reportedly keen to invite him to join their efforts to protect Brexit.

Conservative MPs are considering whether to vote for the privileges committee report or abstain on Monday, as Ms Dorries and a small group of Johnson allies warned of a grassroots uprising and deselections.

Tim Loughton told the BBC he was likely to vote in favour of the report, describing the committee as “legitimate” and their findings “damning”. One senior Tory told The Independent that colleagues should “show backbone” on Monday.

Liz Truss says Tories ‘wrong’ to get rid of Boris (PA Archive)

Mr Green told Today that abstaining from voting would be “not really rising to the importance of the occasion”. Asked if Rishi Sunak should turn up to vote, the One Nation moderate said: “Every individual will make up their own mind.”

Liz Truss defended Mr Johnson in an interview with GB News, arguing that the Tories had been “wrong” to get rid of him and were “sowing the seeds of huge problems for our party”.

The former PM said the committee’s move to bar him from him holding a parliamentary pass was “very harsh decision”, and said people should “never, ever, ever, write Boris off”.

Sir Jake Berry, a friend of Mr Johnson, said it was an “absolute disgrace” that the privileges committee have warned MPs who criticised its work on Mr Johnson that it will produce a “special report” – accusing the panel of seeking to “gag MPs”.

The former Tory chairman told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “It’s an attack on free speech. It’s an absolute disgrace and it rather begs the question that if the committee is so certain and so happy with their findings, why are they trying to stop any debate on this, to gag MPs.”

Meanwhile, further evidence of Mr Sunak’s problems with managing his own party came as Telford MP Lucy Allan announced she would step down at the next election.

The Shropshire town is where Mr Johnson launched his 2019 manifesto, but Ms Allan said: “Today’s Conservative Party is just not interested in seats like Telford anymore.”

The Independent has approached Mr Johnson’s spokesman for comment.

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