The popular, badly coiffed, gaffe-prone mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced Wednesday that he will seek a return to national politics next year, setting up a possible run for prime minister.
Rumors had been rife for months over whether Johnson, 50, would try to reenter Parliament in the 2015 election, a prerequisite for anyone aspiring to occupy 10 Downing St. He ended that speculation in typical fashion, in the slightly bumbling, mumbling style that is his trademark but that belies one of the shrewdest brains in British politics.
“Since you can’t do these things furtively, I might as well be absolutely clear with you. In all probability, I will try to find somewhere to stand in 2015,” he said, referring to the fact that he will have to find a district willing to select him as its parliamentary candidate.
“It is highly likely that I will be unsuccessful in that venture, by the way,” he added to laughter from reporters and other audience members at a speaking engagement in London. “You should never underestimate the possibility of things going badly wrong.”
Johnson, or “BoJo,” as some have dubbed him, insisted that even if he won a seat in the House of Commons, he would serve out the remainder of his second term in London’s top job, through the middle of 2016.
He also deflected questions about whether he was paving the way for a bid to become leader of the Conservative Party and, by extension, its candidate for prime minister. Looking slightly uncomfortable and tugging at his famous mop of unruly blond hair, Johnson said: “I don’t want to revert to ... weasel mode here.” He then avoided giving a direct answer.
As mayor, he has repeatedly shrugged off suggestions of loftier political ambitions, once declaring that he had about as much chance of becoming prime minister as being reincarnated as an olive. Virtually no one believes him.
His declaration of intent Wednesday, which instantly topped British news websites, is a mixed blessing for Prime Minister David Cameron, a fellow Conservative.
Johnson’s colorful style, jokey demeanor and gift for amusing sound bites lend him a star power that could benefit the Conservatives on the campaign trail next year. But that also makes him a potential rival and threat; polls have shown that the Tories’ ratings would rise if Johnson, not Cameron, were party leader.
Cameron publicly welcomed the announcement by his former classmate at Eton, Britain’s toniest prep school, and Oxford.
“Great news that Boris plans to stand at next year’s general election,” Cameron tweeted while vacationing in Portugal. “I’ve always said I want my star players on the pitch.”
In truth, Johnson hardly ever left it. As mayor of the British capital, one of the world’s most vibrant and influential cities, he enjoys a profile and name recognition exceeding that of the many bland, cookie-cutter ministers in Cameron’s Cabinet.
He spent a brief spell in the political wilderness a decade ago, when he served in Parliament but was demoted from the Tory front bench after his colleagues discovered that he had not only had an affair but lied to them about it. In a classic moment of British political life, Johnson stood on his front porch and assured reporters that he and his wife were working out their problems, then turned around to find that she had locked him out.
“There are no disasters -- only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters,” he was quoted as saying around that time.
His talent for turning pratfalls into triumphs comes close to genius. During the highly successful 2012 London Olympics, which were considered a major feather in his cap, Johnson managed to get stuck in midair on a zip line, his portly figure dangling for several minutes like a large, helpless baby. He kept waving the British flags in his hands and cracking jokes. The crowd loved it.
His appeal cuts across party lines. His clownish ways mask a formidable intellect that has produced books on ancient Rome, a comic novel and a collection of essays. In London, he has drawn the support of affluent, left-leaning residents who appreciate his liberal social outlook and his softer stance on immigration, which other Conservatives abhor.
But in a potential sign of his longer-term aspirations, Johnson said Wednesday that a British withdrawal from the European Union would be no calamity, a possible ploy to outflank Cameron and rally the Conservative Party’s many “Euroskeptics” to his side.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times