Johnson Plans Challenge to London Mayor Livingstone
Boris Johnson, one of Britain's best- known Conservative lawmakers, plans to challenge incumbent Ken Livingstone in the 2008 London mayoral election.
``The opportunity is too great, and the prize too wonderful to miss; and that prize is the chance to represent London and speak for Londoners,'' Johnson wrote in an article for the city's Evening Standard newspaper today.
Johnson may be the Conservatives' best hope of capturing the office. Livingstone, mayor since 2000, has expanded the police force, introduced a congestion charge on drivers in central London and increased investment in bus and train services. The city of 7.5 million residents is enjoying robust economic growth fueled by the financial-services industry.
``Boris is just the sort of candidate the Tories need,'' said Peter Laughrane, senior lecturer in politics at London Metropolitan University. ``I'm not sure he would beat Ken, but he stands a better chance than any other Tory.''
Johnson, 43, will remain a member of Parliament representing Henley-on-Thames, and resign his post as a member of Conservative leader David Cameron's education team, he said in an e-mailed statement.
William Hill Plc, the London-based bookmakers, cut the odds of a Johnson victory in the election from 8-to-1 to 2-to-1 after his announcement today.
Johnson's candidacy is a piece of positive news for Cameron, whose party has suffered in the polls since the June handover of power from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown.
The Conservatives had led Labour in almost every poll since the start of 2006. Since Brown took over, Labour has regained its lead, with one poll in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph putting the ruling party 7 percentage points ahead.
More than 50 Conservative Party candidates have applied to run in the mayoral election, a party spokesman said in a telephone interview. The party will select a shortlist of two to five candidates on July 21st.
Like Cameron, Johnson is a graduate of Eton College, a private school that has educated 19 British prime ministers and has annual fees of 26,500 pounds ($54,000).
He may be best known for appearances on the British Broadcasting Corp. current-events show ``Have I Got News For You.'' Johnson has a mop of blond hair and a disheveled air, and he is pictured in British newspapers riding a bicycle wearing a jacket and tie.
Then-Conservative leader Michael Howard forced Johnson to go to Liverpool in 2005 to apologize for a Spectator editorial that said residents of Liverpool played up their ``victim status'' following the execution of local man Ken Bigley in Iraq. The editorial said that the city had a ``deeply unattractive psyche.''
Howard dismissed Johnson as culture spokesman in 2004, saying Johnson misled him over newspaper reports that Johnson had had an affair with a Spectator columnist. Johnson, married and the father of four children, denied that he had had the affair.
In 2006, Johnson said a campaign led by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to ban unhealthy food in Britain's school cafeterias was ``too much.''
``I say let people eat what they like,'' Johnson said at the time, adding that he would ban ``sweets,'' or candy, from schools.
Johnson rejoined the Conservative leadership group under David Cameron, who has actively sought London mayoral candidates.
Cameron unsuccessfully wooed Sir John Stevens, former head of the London Metropolitan Police, and Greg Dyke, ex-director general of the BBC. The party plans to hold a London-wide primary in early September, and choose its candidate at the end of that month.
``Boris is a very credible candidate and would make a very good mayor,'' said Brian Coleman, a Conservative and deputy leader of the city's legislative assembly. ``We have to win London.''
Livingstone said on July 10 that running against Johnson would be a ``delight. I want a good, high-profile candidate like Boris.''
The 62-year-old Livingstone is a former member of Parliament and a London politician since 1973. He said that Johnson, if he were elected, would have to give up his extra income from the Telegraph column and after-dinner speeches because the job as London mayor is ``24-7.''
John Bird MBE, co-founder of the Big Issue magazine, has said he will run as an independent candidate.