By Mark Wallace
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Having spent part of 2012 dangling from a zipwire, nowadays Boris is balancing on a tightrope.
As Paul discussed in August, he has to weigh competing expectations and risks – he doesn't want to spend years on the backbenches under Cameron, but he doesn't want to be absent when the chance for leadership comes, he wants to differentiate himself from the Tory leadership but he doesn't want to inherit Michael Heseltine's reputation for disloyalty, forced to wear it for the rest of his days like a Nosferatu cape.
For that reason, we've seen different editions of Boris. The flirtatious touter of alternative ideas, toying with EU exit or an illegal immigrant amnesty from his philosopher's tower at City Hall. The king over the water, carefully phrasing remarks that could be interpreted as criticism of Cameron's leadership.
Today, at the Institute of Directors' Annual Convention at the Royal Albert Hall, he was new, improved Loyalty Boris (batteries included, moving parts, press here for anecdotes).
Cameron was absolutely right to demand a firm EU renegotiation, and Boris would back him to the hilt. Stricter rules on immigration were a bad thing, despite his lament that Chinese tourists are going to Brussels rather than London. The Chancellor had righted the economy like the engineers raising the Costa Concordia. Government activism on the housing market was a good thing, regardless of the fact London house prices are clearly capable of inflating themselves without any help.
Even when questioned by Guido Fawkes about free school meals, he caught himself straying off the line a bit and retreated to a safer answer:
"Look I’m sure the government have a very good reason for doing it."
I decided to test this new Boris a little further.
On the day ConservativeHome exclusively revealed that Tory Party membership has fallen to 134,000, what was his opinion on the decline and how would he get it up, (so to speak)?
"That's a huge number! We can build on that. I think the Conservative Party is doing unbelievably well under David Cameron, I think they've got the right ideas…there's a strong, strong…I saw a poll the other day that we had more votes among 18-24 year olds than the other guys. I mean, that's unbelievable, that's never been true in my lifetime. That's thanks to the sheer charisma of the Tory brand."
Could the enthusiasm be wholly genuine, with Boris bowled over in delight at how well things are going for the Prime Minister? Or might there be a glimmer of sarcasm beneath the joviality?
A final question to test just that – as the owner of politics' most famous hair, what was the Mayor's review of George Osborne's new trim?
"I think George looks terrific under all circumstances."
Is Boris' new loyalty a tactical position in his tightrope walk, coloured with a bit of cheek, or sincere to his core? If you want to judge against that last question, you'd do best to check out the Chancellor's new barnet for yourself.