Boris Johnson’s confirmation this morning that he is to stand as a Tory MP at the next election must, despite his repeated denials over the years, be one of the least unexpected or remarkable political announcements in political times.
Put it this way: What good reason would the manically ambitious, Machiavellian, potential Tory leader have not to stand for Parliament?
But despite what some people will say, Johnson’s decision is not really a threat to David Cameron, who sanctioned and even encouraged the plan at a private meeting earlier this year.
The reason is this: If Boris is to have any hope of succeeding Mr Cameron he will need to be seen to be a loyal and active Conservative campaigner in the run-up to 2015. If he isn’t and the Tories lose, he would be blamed by the Conservative Parliamentary party and never even make it to the ballot of the wider party membership.
So Mr Cameron gets Boris inside the Tory tent and singing to a hymn sheet set by Lynton Crosby who masterminded the latter’s successful campaign to become Mayor of London.
And if Mr Cameron does defy electoral odds and wins an overall majority at the next election there simply won’t be a vacancy for the top job. Mr Cameron would be free to appoint the Mayor to whatever Cabinet post he thinks will do most damage to his personal credibility and neutralise him as a leadership threat in the future.
If the Tories win in 2015, then look forward to Boris Johnson the Health Secretary – or perhaps even Local Government Secretary if Cameron’s feeling particularly cruel.
And if the Tories lose? Well in that case the pressure for Mr Cameron to resign will be overwhelming regardless of whether Mr Johnson is an MP or not.
The Prime Minister will quickly fall on his sword, take to the international lecture circuit and probably care little whether it’s Boris, Theresa May or some other unfortunate who has to lead the party for five more years in the wilderness.
If there is another hung Parliament, life gets a little more complicated – but not complicated enough for Mr Cameron to block a Boris return.
One final point is worth making: Johnson has led a charmed political life so far but has skeletons in his cupboard that might not survive the scrutiny or the publicity of a Tory leadership campaign.
Boris has a rather poor record of marital fidelity, was once sacked from a job as a journalist for making up quotes, and also once discussed (he has since said, jokingly) the prospective beating up a journalist by a friend who was later convicted of fraud. Would the Tory shires really want a leader, no matter how telegenic and charismatic, with such a record?
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