A poll of Party members for this site found that a over three-quarters of them favour either leaving the EU altogether, if a free trade agreement can be put in place with it, or staying in if a big renegotiation can be successfully achieved. Boris Johnson is moving this week to occupy precisely this ground. That he is doing so in an exhaustively-trailed speech made during the holiday season is being read in some quarters as a sign that he wants to clean up his view on Europe (the confusions of which Mark Wallace chronicled on this site last Sunday) and clear the decks for him to announce that he wants to re-enter the Commons next May.
According to this view, the timetable for the Mayor is roughly as follows. During the next few weeks, he makes his intention clear – perhaps in time for him to hurl his Winstonian homburg into the ring for the Uxbridge selection, which closes next month. The fatted calf is then well and truly butchered for the Prodigal Boris at Party Conference in October, at which he is re-united in public with the ever-patient David Cameron. Later that month, his Churchillian credentials for leadership are stressed when his biography of Britain’s wartime leader is published. And during the election campaign itself, he hits the stump to reach the parts of the electorate that other Conservatives simply can’t.
The beauty of such a scheme, at least for the Mayor, is that he gains from either outcome. If Cameron returns to Downing Street, Boris re-enters the Cabinet in 2016 after his Mayoral term ends, just in time to hold the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire during a EU renegotiation (and, even more importantly, the Foreign Secretary’s: that’s to say, those of his leadership rival George Osborne). But if Miliband enters Number 10 instead, Boris is nicely in place to run as an Outist-flavoured candidate in the leadership election that would follow – if he can find a way of fudging the time gap between the end of such a contest in the autumn of 2015 and the spring of 2016 when that Mayoral term concludes.
There is a lot to be said for this take on this week’s events. But there are four main reasons why Boris may decide not to stand next May, after all. First, he is well aware that any backsliding from his commitment to London’s voters may carry a political penalty. Second, he has no particular wish to serve in Cabinet under Cameron (which doesn’t reflect well on him). And third, if he does so, he wants a top job, as Secretary of State for B.I.S.C.U.I.T.S*, or something very like it. He may not fancy hanging around for a year, in the event of Cameron returning to Downing Street, to wait for it to happen – which it couldn’t be anyway in the event of a second Coalition.
Finally, it’s important to consider the psychology of the individual, to apply a Wodehousian phrase to the Mayor’s Wodehousian persona. Boris’s instinct, when told what to do by anyone – let alone by the Chancellor – is to hunker down and not budge. He may yet decide to sit out next May, and trust that a suitable by-election will come swanning along in the event of that leadership election. Certainly, the Mayoral team is stressing that there’s less to the timing of tomorrow’s big speech than meets the eye: the report for Boris on which it is based, it is claimed, was originally due to be published earlier this year, and was postponed for reasons that have nothing to do with the Mayor’s future ambitions.
The one certainty is that Boris apparently recognises the logic long argued by this site – namely, that he must make announcement by the time of Party Conference, or risk transforming it into a feeding frenzy about his future intentions. Perhaps he has already quietly made a deal with Cameron, who he recently visited at Chequers. Perhaps he acknowledges that standing next May is win-win for country and Party, since both would gain either from his presence in government as a Minister, or in opposition as a senior Shadow Cabinet member – maybe, indeed, as Party leader. Or perhaps he has simply to make up his mind.
At any rate, the view of Party members is clear – according to another poll of them for this site, which takes us back almost to where we started. Most of them want him back in the Commons. Almost half want him to stand next May. Only 13 per cent don’t want him anywhere near the place. Party Conference opens in less than eight weeks.