Among the nominees for our One to Watch in 2015 award is someone whom you will already be extremely familiar with: Boris Johnson. This nomination is partially tongue-in-cheek: the award is traditionally given to a young rising star, whereas Boris has been part of the Conservative firmament for so long that he has entire constellations named after him. But it is also partially serious: with his likely return to Parliament, and the role he could play in any potential leadership contest, the Mayor of London will certainly be one to watch as the new year unfolds.
What will we see from him? This morning’s newspapers give one of the clearest indications yet. Boris, they report, is preparing to cast himself as a One Nation Tory. As part of this, he thinks that the promotion of a living wage – and of better living standards for those at the lower end of the income scale, in general – should be “front and centre” of the Conservatives’ offering to voters. He also wants to speed up infrastructure projects by offering greater compensation to those whose homes and land will be concreted over, as well as to devolve more power to cities.
All of this is unsurprising. The Mayor of London can be horribly inconsistent in his rhetoric on certain issues (Europe, immigration), but he is rarely so when it comes to actual policies. The living wage, construction and devolution have been written into his personal manifesto for years.
Yet the timing of this One Nation outburst is striking. The row over Theresa May’s SpAds, which Paul Goodman revealed on this site last week, has been boiling over for the past four days. David Cameron, George Osborne and Grant Shapps have all been caught up in it to greater or lesser extents. But Boris? Boris is on the outside of it all, and he’d have us believe that he’s not even looking in. He’s too busy devising a plan for how the Tories can win votes wholesale, at the next election and beyond. It’s a better look than squabbling in the mud.
This above-it-all-ishness isn’t a quality that you would once have associated with Boris. For much of this Parliament, he has been the one – with a choice jibe or an explosive article – who has set the leadership speculation a-rolling. But now he has new roles to consider. Not only is he a prospective Member of Parliament, which generally entails a degree of loyalty, but he is also going to be one of the Conservatives’ star players in the next election campaign. He is there to do a number on Ed Miliband and, in particular, on Nigel Farage. Not on his own side.
How much of this is calculated on the Mayor’s part? The answer could lie in the “Men v May” divide that Paul described a couple of weeks ago. Putting aside the slippery matter of who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong, it’s clear that the Home Secretary has annoyed some of her colleagues with her leadership displays – and now they’re moving against her. Would Boris want to bring that on himself? Or might he determine that it’s better to make friends than enemies?
It’s telling, perhaps, that George Osborne is also an advocate for higher minimum wages, infrastructure spending and devolution to cities. Men v May, indeed.