By Paul Goodman
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The main aim of the party conference planners is to keep their grid undented. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't. Last year they did: with the exception of the row about a cat (you remember: whether or not the ownership of one contributed to a deportation decision), everything went more or less to order. The year before they didn't: the first few days of the conference were knocked off-balance by the row about George Osborne's plan to withdraw child benefit from some better-off parents.
So far this year the planners are getting their way in Birmingham – nothing emerged yesterday to steal the limelight from Grant Shapps's and William Hague's twin assault on Ed Miliband – but a problem looms for them: Boris. The Mayor of London has the potential not so much to dent their grid as to blow a hole right through the middle of it. Last year and pre-budget, his naked desire for the leadership and the premiership had less potential to do this. This year is different, and I list briefly below some of the main moments to watch for.
- The stage is set… Yesterday, Boris admitted that there is "an element of competition' between him and David Cameron, and said (truthfully enough) that whether or not he would make a better Prime Minister was "unverifiable". As for the future, "after four years is up, heaven knows", he said, alluding to the end of his term as Mayor. As I point out in today's ConservativeHome conference newspaper, we have travelled a long way since Boris said that there was as much chance of him occupying Downing Street as being reincarnated as an olive.
- …And the Telegraph article is written. In his column today, he doesn't make the swashbuckling assault on Ed Miliband of which he is more than capable, but instead makes an electoral pitch for the support of the "struggling middle" (which by implication is not sufficiently being supported by the Government). “They are feeling utterly and understandably
ignored,” he writes. “It is time to help them.. They cannot get the
mortgages they would need, not at current prices, and not with lenders in
their current mood."
- I suspect Boris will delight the conference tomorrow morning with a carnival of Miliband-bashing (his column suggests the theme: that the Labour leader is a hypocritical millionaire, no less a member of the political class than the Conservatives he criticises…
- …But all eyes will be on his appearance at the ConservativeHome fringe event this evening: Boris Johnson: Re-elected and Olympotastic…
- And – finally – who knows what he may say off-the-cuff to an interviewer?