Anyone with the slightest interest in politics or current affairs will have heard that Boris Johnson is planning to make a return to the Commons by standing for election as an MP in May next year. So important was the blond mop-top’s announcement that it even made it into the BBC ‘breaking news’ email.
To those of us who follow politics regularly of course, the announcement was hardly a surprise. Ever since Boris gave up the Commons to become Mayor of London it was always a case of when, not if, he would make a return. Boris has always been ambitious, and whilst his position as mayor does give him a large budget and continuing media coverage, there is no scope for moving upwards. With only one ‘seat’, there is also no guarantee that you will be able to hold onto the position indefinitely. Indeed, the maximum time in office is probably similar to that of prime minister, i.e. by the end of three terms you’ve annoyed or alienated sufficient voters to lose your majority.
The first point that most commentators make is that this attempt to return to the Commons is the first step towards Boris as prime minister. Naturally Boris has been quick to pledge his whole-hearted support for David Cameron, claiming that he is unlikely to stand for the leadership as there is ‘no vacancy’. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Boris would not put his name forward were Cameron to step down or be deposed. Cynics might also take note of the use of the past tense when Boris stated that Cameron ‘has been a brilliant prime minister’ (emphasis mine).
The other salient question about Boris’ return is which constituency he will stand for election in. Some areas have already selected their candidate, and I don’t think Boris would want to be parachuted in over an existing choice, even if that may be technically possible. One expects that he will be given a relatively safe seat or, perhaps more sensible from a tactical point of view, a target seat which is winnable by someone with his appeal and ability to attract favourable media coverage.
Despite the generally positive press coverage of Boris’ decision, there will be some people who are displeased by his return to mainstream politics. Potential candidates for the leadership will no doubt be disappointed to see a high-profile politician return to the fold. Cameron, on the other hand, will probably view Boris’ return as a double-edged sword - Boris certainly attracts the press, but the coverage is not always positive, with embarrassing gaffes and revelations about his private life. There is also a danger that the story of Boris eclipses that of the party, and his conference speeches already overshadow those made by Cameron and other senior party members.
Boris himself may find life as an MP difficult compared to his current position. As mayor he is the sole focus of attention, whereas in the Commons he will be fighting for the limelight amongst over six hundred other MPs. He certainly cannot expect to be called by the Speaker every week at PMQs, and unless he obtains a (shadow?) cabinet position he will rarely be leading debates.
This leads into the final question which is what position will Boris secure, should he be successful in winning a seat at the general election? Cameron is presented with a difficult choice, as he cannot parachute Boris into a senior cabinet role without ruffling feathers, and some roles are out of the question (e.g. Chancellor). On the other hand, Boris cannot be overlooked entirely given his media profile. For some MPs the chairmanship of a choice select committee would be appropriate, but I don’t think that fits with Boris’ style – only a cabinet position will be sufficient.