Look out... Boris is back

Whatever you may think of Boris Johnson, he has taken a gamble by confirming his intention to return to Parliament next year.

Bluster aside, London’s Mayor wants to be Prime Minister. And he is the most high-profile Conservative to be largely untainted by four years of austerity measures.

He’s spent his time at City Hall carving out a different kind of Conservative message - and building on his image as “the Tory that it’s OK for Labour people to like”.

Boris could have sat out the 2015 election, pointed to his mandate as Mayor, which runs until May the following year. And if David Cameron couldn’t lead the Tories to victory, doubtless someone would have stepped aside to let Boris back into the Commons, in time for a leadership campaign from the opposition benches.

Except it would all have looked a little too shady, a little too opportunistic. The kind of disloyalty some Tories might not want to reward.

Now, Boris is still in a position to pounce if the Tories don’t win next year, but can also claim total loyalty to David Cameron.

With typical Johnson fake-modesty, he warns “it is highly likely I will be unsuccessful” in finding a seat.

He’s also promised to serve out his full term as Mayor -- and Labour will question how you can juggle the most powerful directly elected job in British politics with the role of MP, let alone Cabinet minister (or Leader of the Opposition).

David Cameron says he’s delighted by Boris’ decision -- of course he is. His greatest rival must now stand much closer to him, and if Cameron goes down, Boris will at the very least be tainted by the defeat.

And the Mayor will bring some much needed sparkle to the Tory campaign. Labour gained ground in the London Assembly elections in 2012, but Boris was re-elected because in key outer-London constituencies natural Labour supporters voted for him rather than Ken Livingstone.

If Boris can repeat that trick next year, connecting with voters other Tories can’t reach, he could make a significant difference to the result.

But….

If the Conservatives do win, he’ll get a middle-ranking cabinet job, and have to start running to catch up with George Osborne and Theresa May in the race to succeed Mr Cameron.

And before that, he’ll have to spend the next year publicly supporting Conservative policies he’s often implied he’s at odds with.

But, in pursuit of that larger prize, Boris has judged it’s a risk worth taking. Better to be inside the tent than outside.