by Stephen Tall on March 19, 2013
A typically colourful quote from Mayor of London Boris Johnson on any ambition he might harbour one day to occupy Number 10:
“I would like to be the lead singer of an international rock group. That was my aim, or a good guitarist. I would love to have been a world-famous painter or a composer. There are many things that I would like to have been able to do. … Obviously, if the ball came loose from the back of a scrum – which it won’t – it would be a great, great thing to have a crack at. But it’s not going to happen.”
Yet he remains the bookies’ favourite, according to The Spectator’s daily tracker:
Next Tory leader chances, as implied by bookies: Boris Johnson 19%, Theresa May 16%, Michael Gove 11%, Philip Hammond 9%, George Osborne 9%, William Hague 8%, David Davis 6%, Grant Shapps 5%.
The biggest stumbling block to Boris becoming Tory leader is the obvious one: he’s not an MP. But there is continuing speculation about a possible route — for example, from political journalist Gaby Hinsliff:
@clarkerosie yes, he does have to get a seat. suspect a fair few MPs prepared to give up their seats to make that byelexn possible
— Gaby Hinsliff (@gabyhinsliff) March 11, 2013
A by-election to create a vacancy for Boris — is it plausible? Well, never rule anything out. But the voters tend not to like being taken for granted. That’s a lesson that Patrick Gordon Walker learned the hard way in the 1965 Leyton by-election…
Patrick Gordon Walker was the Labour MP defeated in 1964 in the infamous Smethwick campaign (which featured the slogan, “If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour”). Harold Wilson appointed Gordon Walker to the foreign office anyway. Labour’s Reginald Sorensen was moved upstairs to the Lords to create a safe seat for Gordon Walker to occupy. But Leyton’s voters had other ideas: it was gained by the Tories by 205 votes in January 1965. Patrick Gordon Walker was forced to resign from office.
However, he did return to power: the seat reverted to Labour at the 1966 general election. So if Boris is to take a tilt at the Tory leadership, the safe route would be to find a London seat ready for the 2015 general election. To risk a by-election is to chance humiliation. And Boris may be a fool, but he’s not stupid.