I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing, the first time I heard it suggested that Boris might one day be Prime Minister.
It was in Bournemouth, on the second evening of conference in 2004. I was in the company of a shadow secretary of state and a senior member of CCHQ, and we were sat in the window seat of a restaurant. It was evening, dark and pouring with rain.
The restaurant was bustling, packed with conference goers and smelt of wet wool, pensioners and politicians.
We were in a slight hurry as I had to get the shadow minister to a speech he was due to deliver at a conference fringe – but after a full day which had begun at 6am – we were starving and desperate for food. My job was to place the order quickly and as I sat back down into my seat, the conversation turned to the last tense conference we three had been at together the previous year, which had set the scene for the downfall of Iain Duncan Smith.
The conversation wandered onto the longevity of Michael Howard’s tenure in the role of leader, which I was informed with an authorative voice, would be short.
My question was, “who could possibly replace him?” The swift reply, which indicated that it wasn’t a spur of the moment revelation and perhaps something already pre-determined, shot straight back in one word “Boris”.
I laughed. Oh… how I laughed. I replied with one word, high on exaggeration, “Boris”? Followed by “are you serious”? They were, deadly.
I realise now, looking back, that in the wheels within wheels, Boris was probably the de facto leader in waiting.
If he hadn’t humanly erred in his own private life, and commissioned Simon Heffer to write the Spectator article about Liverpool, Boris, not Cameron, may have been leader today.
It only took weeks of viewing Boris through the prism of potential leadership in order to shift my thoughts to exactly the same place as theirs.
In 2010, when sat in the members' tea room, an MP from the new intake with a very marginal seat asked me who I thought would take over from Cameron. “Boris” I replied. Oh, how he laughed. And laughed. He’s not laughing now.
Boris is unique. If you view him as a buffoon, you see only the buffoon. If you view him as a comedian, you see only the comedian. If you think he is a sinner, you will see only the sinner.
However, try looking at him as the a man who has cleaned up London (especially the tube stations) introduced Boris bikes, brought back the route master, eliminated waste in County Hall, improved public services, delivered value for money to council taxpayers, made London safer, identified a new airport hub, and gave us the most fantastic show on earth in the Olympics and Paralympics. If you realise he is a man who has strong Eurosceptic credentials, is a fan of low taxation, understands growth and who made people feel proud to drape themselves in a Union Jack and declare their love for their country, you see someone else.
On Friday night I heard a story of a group of people stood in a corridor with Boris at Cranfied University. On the wall hung a framed map and underneath a very detailed and long text written in ancient Greek. A lady in the party commented, “Goodness, I wonder what that means”? Boris obliged. He walked over and word for word, without any hesitation whatsoever translated the entire text.
That woman views Boris as a scholar.
Some people view Boris as a social liberal, and yes, I think he possibly is. But I view him as someone who would never impose his views on me, or anyone else. I see him as a confident and secure man, who if he were leader would not whip his party into voting one way or another on social or moral issues, which sadly, is not the case now.
A YouGov poll has revealed that amongst voters, 58% believe Boris is the most respected politician. Thatcher reached 46%. As if we needed to be told that. The fact that Boris was cheered to the rafters during the Olympics as the crowds chanted his name was indication enough for many.
MPs in marginal seats will be thinking long and hard on that YouGov poll, especially those with London seats.
The real question is, not if, but when?
Will Boris enter Parliament before 2015, challenge Cameron and lead the party into victory at the next election? Or will he wait until after the election, and ride in as a blond knight and rescue the party from the jaws of defeat, which would secure him a long tenure in the leader’s chair.
Boris will battle with this dilemma.
Which way will he go? How would I know?
Boris isn’t perfect. He may be as self seeking and serving as every other politician in Westminster and self important Westminster journalists may come up with a hundred reasons why he couldn’t pull it off. All I would say is this, the people love him. If Boris needs anything to help him decide which way to go, if any Conservative MP in a marginal seat needs something to help them view Boris as a potential Prime Minister, what the people think should be enough.