The return of Boris to boost Conservative electoral ambitions

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 01:01

For most Londoners Uxbridge is just the western terminus of the Central Line, somewhere near Heathrow. For one of their number, however, the capital’s mayor Boris Johnson, this patch of suburbia has another appeal, a departing Tory MP on a comfortable 11,000 majority. And a selection convention on September 12th for next year’s general election. Little wonder then he this week abandoned his promise to be a full-time mayor until the end of his term in May 2016 to announce that he is now in search of a parliamentary constituency.

Despite his very public support for the closure of the place of employment of many of his would-be constituents, Heathrow – to replace it with a four-runway airport in the Thames estuary or Stansted – few doubt he will succeed in getting the nomination and in returning to the Commons. Johnson, now in his second term as mayor, is the darling of the party grassroots whose affections he was also cultivating this week with a strongly Eurosceptic speech in which he proclaimed a bright future for Britain outside the EU should its reform demands not be met.

Back in the House this astute and very ambitious politician, whose entertaining mantle of gentle buffoonery is an effective camouflage for his deeply conservative politics, will be poised to challenge for the real prize, the Tory leadership should David Cameron fail to get the party back into government.

Johnson’s appeal is remarkable. An Old Etonian like Cameron, he has nevertheless fashioned a persona that reaches parts of the electorate, not least young voters, that other Tories simply can’t. He has turned what in the post-Thatcher years had been for many voters a divisive, harsh agenda into unthreatening but often devastating humorous broadsides at Labour, and often, though more subtly, at his own party leadership. But the party knows where he stands. He’s one of them. Reliable. Scratch the surface, he makes politics more interesting and entertaining, but not different.