NEWSMAKERS | UNITED KINGDOM
With a seminal speech at the beginning of August, London’s larger-than-life mayor, Boris Johnson, positioned himself as a candidate for the future leadership of the Conservative Party. Speaking at Bloomberg’s UK headquarters, Johnson announced he would run in the 2015 election to regain a seat in Parliament and took a hard line on the country’s European Union membership, stating that Britain shouldn’t be afraid of getting out if it is unable to secure the reforms it demands from Brussels. It is too early to say whether Johnson is mounting a direct challenge to prime minister David Cameron or aiming to be first in the line of succession. What is certain is that, with Johnson being an entertaining, media-savvy public figure, British politics is about to get a lot more interesting.
“Johnson is a bombshell, the most exciting politician we have in Britain, bar none,” says Cristina Odone, director of communications for the Legatum Institute think tank. “Is he jostling for the leadership of Tory? Well, is the pope Catholic?” According to Odone, Johnson has what it takes, and could create problems for Cameron in the process. “He is seen as a potential winner for Labour converts—popular with women and with immigrants.”
Much will depend on the outcome of the 2015 vote. “If Cameron fails to retain the premiership, he is not going to survive as Tory leader, irrespective of whether Boris is in the House,” says John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. “But if you are Boris and fancy your chances at the leadership, you need to be there if and when Cameron resigns.”
Johnson surprised many by coming out as a full-on euroskeptic. This too can be viewed as an astute move reflecting where much of British public opinion stands. “People would like to see reform as the first option, but there is enormous frustration about the EU, so if things don’t change, an exit is conceivable,” says Stephen Booth, research director at think tank Open Europe, which has offices in London and Brussels. “Though Johnson was at pain to say that his was not a challenge to Cameron, in terms of the objectives he set out for the EU he went beyond what the PM has been talking about, so in that sense he set the bar a bit higher.”