A most uncivil war rocks the Tories

“As if the troubles in Crimea were not doing enough to evoke the Cold War aura”, the “rumbling tensions within the ruling Bullingdon faction of the Tory Supreme Soviet” exploded into a “most uncivil war” over the weekend, says Matthew Norman in The Independent on Sunday.

Boris Johnson accused George Osborne of being a “liar” after a story allegedly planted on the front page of The Times claimed that Osborne, acting as David Cameron’s emissary, had asked Boris to “return to the Commons before next May’s election and immerse himself in the workers’ struggle for a majority”.

Allies of Johnson interpret this a “cunning ruse to bind Boris to the campaign”, on the logic that a Tory defeat would fatally damage his image and “clear Osborne’s path to the leadership”.

Johnson “skilfully doused things down” on his LBC radio phone-in on Monday, speaking warmly of his “old, old friendship” with Osborne, promising to see out his mayoral term, which expires in 2016, and dismissing the suggestion that he would run for Westminster before polling day, says The Guardian.

What he did not rule out, however, was running for parliament at the 2015 general election and then serving as an MP while mayor, since the rules do not forbid this. “Indeed, Ken Livingstone set a helpful precedent by remaining – during his first 13 months as mayor – the Westminster member for Brent East.”

Not that it really matters what commitments Johnson makes, as he could rewrite them all anyway, using the “full arsenal of the Johnson thesaurus” to describe why. As it is, he “retains the cards and remains unbound”.

Biding his time is certainly an option, say James Pickford and George Parker in the FT. If Cameron wins the next election, there is speculation that he might stand aside after his proposed 2017 EU referendum. If that happens, Johnson might be better placed to stand for the Tory leadership from outside Westminster, “offering himself as a fresh start”.

If Cameron loses the election, fighting for the Tory leadership with the prospect of five years in opposition would be a “far less appetising prospect than contesting the post midway through the next parliament”, if Cameron were to stand down.

It is impossible to see how this skirmish will pan out, but I refer Osborne to the history books, adds Norman. “The last time a bunch of power-hungry wannabe rulers underestimated an erstwhile capital city major called Boris as a shambolic buffoon who posed no serious threat, it did not go spiffingly for them.”

Take a look at archive footage of Boris Yeltsin atop his tank in the Russian coup d’etat of 1991, George, and “be afeared”.

Merryn

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