Boris Johnson rules out standing as MP in 2015 general election
Mayor had been keeping his options open: but 'dirty tricks' speculation has forced his hand
BORIS JOHNSON has been forced to rule out running for a seat in Parliament at or before the May 2015 general election.
His decision, shared with listeners to LBC Radio this morning, followed speculation over the weekend that Chancellor George Osborne was trying to inveigle Boris into standing for Parliament sooner rather than later so that – 'dirty tricks' alert! - he would be tarred with failure if the Tories fail to win the election and thus lose his advantage over Osborne when Conservatives choose their next leader.
Until today, Johnson had been careful to keep his options open - even if it was going to mean being an MP at the same time as being mayor, given that his second term at City Hall runs until spring 2016.
But this morning he declared: "I am so sick of this subject, I think I'm going to expire sometimes. I am going to get on with my job as Mayor of London.
"The answer is I am sticking to my job that I was elected to do in 2012 and indeed in 2008. I'm very, very privileged to be here."
What provoked Boris's denial was the front page of yesterday’s Mail on Sunday which promoted the idea that Osborne is increasingly keen to take over the party leadership when David Cameron stands down – as he will surely have to if the Tories fail for the second election running to win a clear majority.
But Osborne - so the theory goes - wants to be certain that Boris, easily the most high–profile Tory in the country, is unable to escape a 2015 Tory defeat without any mud sticking to him. And the best way to achieve that is to have Boris involved in the defeat.
A well-placed source was quoted as saying that when he was told Osborne had approached him about standing for Parliament in 2015, the Mayor said: "Bullshit – there’s been no such conversation. They are trying to tie me in."
The "dirty tricks" story excited a great deal of interest in the media this morning, before Johnson went on LBC.
Ben Brogan, the political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, blogged that it showed the battle to succeed Cameron was hotting up. "By offering the Mayor a prominent role in the Tory election campaign, the thinking is that Boris would sink or swim with the success of it; so if the Conservatives lost, Boris would be weakened as much as Mr Osborne."
It got Tim Montgomerie speculating in The Times about the role Michael Gove might play in the succession: "The Education Secretary is honest when he says he does not want to be leader himself but one notion is that he becomes Osborne’s running mate. He is already using private gatherings to big up the Chancellor and talk down London’s Mayor."
Meanwhile, Peter McKay in the Daily Mail advised Boris to go for it: "They’re expecting him to scheme for the leadership wherever he goes. So jump back into the fray now."
But Boris had decided to play the long game. There's just one snag: if the Conservatives do fail to win the general election, and assuming Tory backbenchers demand Cameron's head, Boris will have to get himself a seat in Parliament PDQ if he wants to take part in the leadership election.
That will mean persuading one of his friends with a safe Tory seat to resign quickly after the May election and force a by-election. The usual reward for such a sacrifice is a seat in the House of Lords.