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BIRMINGHAM: London’s colourful mayor Boris Johnson yesterday dodged an invitation to explicitly rule out becoming Britain’s prime minister one day, at a Conservative Party conference gripped by Boris-mania.
Johnson is seen as being able to appeal beyond core Conservative voters, and is riding a wave of popularity after successfully hosting London’s Olympic Games. Meanwhile, support for the government has slid amid recession and spending cuts.
The tousle-haired mayor has received rock star treatment at the conference, mobbed by supporters and making humorous speeches to cheering audiences, while Prime Minister David Cameron struggles to defend his plan to fix a flagging economy.
Johnson, who won re-election as mayor last May against the national trend, is seen by some Conservatives as a leader who could strengthen the party after successive election defeats and its inability to win an outright majority in 2010 polls.
In a speech yesterday, he compared himself to a mop and Cameron to a broom cleaning up the economic mess, and said that he had danced with the prime minister to surprise Korean pop-hit “Gangnam Style”.
In interviews after his speech, he called for the media to discard the idea of him one day becoming prime minister.
“I would welcome the spotlight moving away from what I think is an increasingly tired, hackneyed, desiccated, super-masticated, issue,” he told the BBC.
However, asked whether he ruled out running for Britain’s top job, he said: “What I want to do is be mayor of London and get on with delivering the things I was elected to do”.
On Monday, Johnson declared his admiration for Cameron, but has in recent months been vocal in criticising the government, demanding last month that Cameron rule out expanding London’s Heathrow airport to avoid making a “profound mistake”.
Still, Johnson’s future is hampered by a lack of a seat in parliament and a perception that he is too quirky and eccentric for the top job.
“If we choose Boris as a leader we’re taking a big risk. He will either be the biggest success or the biggest disaster and it’s difficult to call,” said John Cole, retiree and a Conservative Party activist at the conference. “If it was my money I would say no. Popularity and ability are very rarely good bedfellows.”