England, United Kingdom
Boris Johnson is being lined up to return to a safe Commons seat in 2015 and mount an immediate leadership challenge if David Cameron fails to secure an overall majority.
Allies of the London Mayor, whose popularity has been boosted by the success of the Olympics and Paralympics, played down the prospect of him making a Westminster comeback before that.
Their comments came despite swirling rumours of plots against the Prime Minister and to install Mr Johnson.
One Conservative MP, Colonel Bob Stewart, said two colleagues approached him before the summer break to consider a ‘stalking horse’ challenge for the party leadership that might open the door for Mr Johnson to take over. But Colonel Stewart told them to ‘get lost’.
The Mayor infuriated Number Ten by going to war with Mr Cameron last week, criticising what he called a ‘fudgearama’ over increasing airport capacity.
But a spokesman for Mr Johnson dismissed as ‘fanciful’ a claim that multi- millionaire Tory rebel Zac Goldsmith, who has threatened to quit Parliament if the Government goes ahead with a third runway at Heathrow, offered his south-west London seat to the Mayor.
The two men were said to have discussed the prospect of a by-election in Mr Goldsmith’s Richmond constituency following last week’s Cabinet reshuffle, in which Mr Cameron sidelined ministers who are opposed to Heathrow expansion.
Mr Johnson did meet Mr Goldsmith and the by-election scheme is thought to have been ‘jokingly’ mentioned, but the Mayor is said to have dismissed it out of hand.
Mr Goldsmith wrote yesterday on Twitter: ‘I have never offered to resign! But I did promise before the election that I would, if the Government U-turns on Heathrow.’
But MPs who want to see Mr Johnson in Downing Street confirmed privately that advanced discussions had taken place on finding him a seat for the 2015 election.
Mr Goldsmith’s seat is not considered safe enough because it is a marginal. Two that have been discussed by Mr Johnson’s supporters are Mole Valley, where veteran MP Sir Paul Beresford might be persuaded to step down, and Henley, the Mayor’s old Commons seat.
Mr Johnson has always insisted he has no intention of trying to oust Mr Cameron and has pledged to see out his second term as Mayor.
But while he would be heavily criticised if he tried to combine the role of mayor and MP for an extended period, he is due to leave office in London in 2016.
That would mean the two jobs would only overlap for a year if he made a comeback at the next general election. One rebel MP said: ‘The aim is that Boris is in place at the next election. If Cameron loses the election badly, he’ll resign and Boris will stand, but if he misses a majority again and tries to stitch up another coalition with the Lib Dems then there will be blood on the walls. We won’t let him do it again.’
Another rebel Tory, Nadine Dorries, said: ‘We need to get Boris in and Cameron out to survive 2015.’
But Mr Johnson said he was ‘absolutely not’ planning a return to the Commons. ‘As I said in the election about a billion times, being Mayor is the best job in British politics and it’s what I want to do,’ he said.
By James Chapman, The Daily Mail, September 8, 2012