Johnson praises PM for 'clearing Labour mess'

Wed, Oct 10, 2012, 01:00

CONSERVATIVE mayor of London Boris Johnson, frequently seen as a challenger to prime minister David Cameron, paid vigorous tribute to him yesterday as he called for an end to speculation about his ambitions.

During a joke-filled speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Mr Johnson was cheered repeatedly by thousands of delegates, some of whom had queued for an hour to get into the hall.

Saying that Mr Cameron was doing a “fantastic” job, Mr Johnson described him as the “broom” who is “clearing up the mess left by the Labour government” after its 13 years in power.

“I congratulate you and your colleagues – George Osborne the dustpan, Michael Gove the J-cloth, William Hague the sponge. It is the historic function of Conservative governments over the last 100 years to be the household implements on the floor of the house, so effective at clearing up after the Labour binge has got out of control,” he said, to raucous cheers.

For months there has been a flood of speculation that Mr Johnson is considering a return to the House of Commons to challenge Mr Cameron for the Conservative leadership.

While he repeatedly pledged his loyalty, it was notable that Mr Johnson listed his own achievements as mayor – perhaps in answer to those who argue that he lacks the experience necessary for the top post.

Unlike others who have spoken to Conservative delegates over the last few days, Mr Johnson maintained his usual ebullience and optimism – a trait that has been central to his political success.

In a TV interview later, he said the focus should move off speculation about a leadership challenge – which he described as “a non-issue” and on to “the things that really matter to people”.

“I would welcome the spotlight moving away from what I think is an increasingly tired, hackneyed, desiccated, super-masticated issue,” said Mr Johnson.

Acknowledging Mr Johnson’s popularity in the party and outside, Mr Cameron has been keen to display no public resentment towards him. “I have got the opposite of tall poppy syndrome.

“I like having other people in the Conservative Party who are popular, who get out there, talk our message and explain our vision and values,” he has said. “He is one of those politicians people warm to.”

Ever supportive of the City of London, Mr Johnson later said he believed the top rate of tax – due, controversially, to be cut from 50p to 45p next April – should be cut further.

“I think it’s politically very difficult to deliver now and I understand the objections that are raised,” he said, “It would not be easy at a time people are suffering.”

He said the UK was getting “into a situation where we are tax uncompetitive”, adding “why should we pay more tax here in Britain than they do in France – not a notably low tax country – Germany, Switzerland?”

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron gave the strongest hint that UK voters would face a European Union referendum after the 2015 election, though not one offering an “in or out” option.

Instead, the Conservative leader said talks between euro zone countries on greater union opened up “the opportunity for Britain to get a fresh and a better settlement with Europe”.

“I’m committed to making sure we do everything to set that out in the run-up to the next election, to get that fresh settlement, then seek fresh consent for that settlement.”