Why London Mayor Boris Johnson could be on his way to No. 10

Look out Westminster, London's blond bombshell of a mayor has set his sights on a parliamentary seat and British politics has suddenly become a bit more watchable.

Look out Westminster, BoJo is stepping up his game

Let's go for a ride. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) and London Mayor Boris Johnson sit on an underground train as they head to Westminster after local election campaigning in Harrow, in May 2014. (Stefan Rousseau / Reuters)

To get a sense of Boris Johnson's unparalleled agility, you can watch a video, available on YouTube, of him in front of a large crowd, hanging by a thread.

If you've seen it, it's obvious London's effervescent mayor thought nothing of being sent down a zipline in an unconventional stunt to promote the 2012 London Olympics.

He wore a dark suit and well-polished shoes, accessorized with a helmet, a (sadly unflattering) harness, and two British flags, which he started happily waving the moment he was set free.

It was BoJo at his best: bold, patriotic and irreverently funny.

Problem is that the stunt went pear-shaped when he didn't quite make it to the other end of the zipline, and he ended up hanging limply for several minutes, waiting to be rescued.

Seems he thought nothing of that, either.

"Get me a rope ...Get me a ladder!" he yelped, before letting out an unguarded laugh.

As he waited, he shifted into ad-libbing — another strength — leading the crowd in cheers for the British athletes competing that day.

Eventually he was pulled to safety. Decidedly unruffled — despite the opposite impression his hair constantly gives — Boris declared the experience "Wonderful … thoroughly recommend it."

An aide later observed, "the judges will rightly be marking him down for artistic impression."

And in that probably lies the crux of Boris's indefinable appeal. The gift variously described as his "electoral magic," or "intellectual agility," or the more vague, "Boris effect."

Scripted or not, London's larger than life mayor always seems to land on his feet.

Look out Westminster

His antics often land him on the front pages, too. Especially recently, when he allowed, almost nonchalantly, "I haven't got any particular seat lined up, but I do think, since you can't do these things furtively, I might as well be absolutely clear, in all probability I will try to find somewhere to stand in 2015."

It was at the end of a provocative speech he had just made on the Conservative (his party) position on whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union.

Seemingly off the cuff. It was as if he decided then and there to tell all, without prior planning.

It is partly that seemingly effortless improvisation, the almost ludicrous ease with which he appears to handle tough situations, that put him a cut above the vast majority of politicians in Britain (or beyond) these days.

That, and the charisma. Few other politicians are able to prompt people to chant their name in a prison as easily as at an impromptu photo op on the street somewhere. Boris manages both.

A knack for getting into the frame. London Mayor Boris Johnson joins dancers for a photo call to promote the Notting Hill Carnival in August 2011. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters)

And it's always Boris, or BoJo. Because "Johnson" would invariably be some other, forgettable politician.

Just Boris. As in "Brand Boris," or the "Boris Bikes" — the London bicycle rental scheme that he (an avid cyclist) introduced.

Presumably it's that name recognition that compelled him — totally unsurprisingly — to put to rest the constant rumours about his political future, as well as to put him in a favourable position should he decide to seek the country's top political job.

However Boris continues to maintain he's not after his long-time rival David Cameron's job. (Even in his veiled criticisms, like his speech on the EU, he obsequiously and repeatedly defers to Cameron, insisting the prime minister is on "the right track.")

Of course, Boris has also repeatedly maintained (at least 17 times, according to the New Statesman) that he wouldn't run for Parliament while he held the job of mayor. He said he would prefer to write "airport bonk busters" instead.

But there he is, plainly going back on his word. His nearly one million Twitter followers have not unfollowed him in protest.

'Blond ambition'

What's more, recent polls (if you believe them) suggest "blameless Boris" would be a runaway success, not only in the seats he's said to be considering, but also as prime minister, a job he has apparently craved since childhood.

It is an almost foregone conclusion here that Boris will step up next year, should Cameron step down.

Don't look now, but ... Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attend a plaque unveiling outside of the Fortnum and Mason store in central London in March 2012. (Toby Melville / Reuters)

The way some British media portray it, his "blond ambition" knows no bounds. Nor should it, argue others, because Boris, as The Telegraph recently put it, "knows what excites people who aren't excited by politics."

His critics say they cannot look past his many failings, like his controversial decision as mayor to buy water cannon to fight public disorder (though he did offer to be blasted by one to prove its safety).

And they ask, will this Eton-educated, Latin-speaking author and former journalist ever get serious?

But the British cannot look past Boris. Like him or not, he's eminently watchable.

When it comes to politics, the British are downright bored. It's so dull, it's apparently a challenge even to persuade professionals to stand for office. Voter turnout at the last election was nearly 20 percentage points lower than it was six decades ago.

So when Boris announced he would run, Cameron, who faces a big test in next year's election, duly tweeted his delight, welcoming the Tory "star player" back to the pitch.

Campaigning, as you can imagine, is among what Boris does best. Especially when things go pear-shaped, which they very well might.

About the Author

Nahlah Ayed

Foreign Correspondent

Nahlah Ayed is a CBC News correspondent based in London. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's covered major world events and spent nearly a decade working in and covering conflicts across the Middle East. Earlier, Ayed was a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.


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