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Boris wins: Europe trembles

Mark Mardell | 21:07 UK time, Sunday, 4 May 2008

A beaming new Boris smiles out and salutes from many a European newspaper, but I don't think they are giving his victory the space that they should.

Boris Johnson

Some of the international media have their own particular take, like this in the Azerbaijan press: "Boris Johnson is Turkish-origin British. He is great grandson of last interior minister of the Ottoman Empire Ali Kemal."

But it's not Boris's origins but the omens that matter to Europe.

It's not that the European press will be awaiting the unzipping of Boris's lips or waiting on tenterhooks for future follies to see if he will feed what he calls the "Hyrcanian tigers" of the media with frank and forthright views.

Not when we have the new mayor of Rome declaring the return of the Falange.

Nor is the significance that Britain has embraced a political power structure more common on the continent and across the Atlantic.

Here, city bosses are real powers in the land and their party. Indeed, in many places you need a local power base to make it on the national stage.

The Tony effect

It was, of course, Tony what done it.

Blair wanted to reinvigorate local politics with charismatic individuals and engage the voters.

Ken Livingstone

This contest was the first in Britain for an age where both contenders were known by their first name, so he's done it in spades.

It'll be interesting to see in the future if a successful run as mayor impels the occupant into a top cabinet job or the party leadership.

Indeed, I would keep a close eye on what Ken does next.

It's not that Boris has passionate views on Europe. Indeed, although he's more famous for going to Eton, he went to the European School here in Brussels for a while, when his dad (later a Tory MEP) was working for the commission.

Later, as the Telegraph's man in Brussels, his witty dispatches hammered home the idea of a wasteful and bureaucratic European Union in the British public's mind.

But Boris's victory, along with the local election results, mean a great deal for the European Union.

I don't agree with Le Monde that "after Italy, Britain" turns to the right and that it's a sea change for the whole of Europe. The victory of the Spanish socialists could point in the opposite direction and anyway New Labour is further to the right (whatever that means these days) than many alleged parties of the right in Europe.

But Spain's El Pais has it right: proclaiming that David Cameron is on course for Downing Street.

During my years as a political correspondent, I would hedge ever prediction with caution. You have to when watching a story close up and following every twist and turn. During an election campaign you have to suspend, if not disbelief, a degree of common sense judgment in order to treat the parties fairly.

But my long view from Brussels is that the combination of a worsening economy, a sense of "time for a change", a restless media, a fixed public image of an inept Prime Minister combined with some really clunky decision making, and it is very difficult to see how Labour can win the next election.

Cameron and the EU

If David Cameron becomes the next British Prime Minister, it could mean a profound change in the relations with the European Union. Although he clearly doesn't want Europe to be one of the high profile campaign issues, it will be forced up the agenda.

David Cameron

If the Lisbon treaty is signed and sealed before a Conservative victory, some Conservatives, including the shadow foreign secretary, will not regard this as the end of the matter.

As I've written before, it will be one of David Cameron PM's first big decisions whether to occupy the first months of his first term with a high profile battle about Britain's place in the European Union, or whether to disappoint supporters.

Next year will tell us much. Mr Cameron tried to form a new political grouping within the European Parliament last year and failed.

He has promised that there will be one next year, in time to fight the European elections in the autumn. Here's the argument for such a group from one of its the main supporters.

That contest will be, perhaps rightly, seen through a Westminster prism and what It means for the general election the following year.

But hard questions will be asked about the Conservatives approach to Europe, Labour will be desperate to re-ignite the old Tory civil war and the tone of the campaign will tell us much about Cameron's approach to the European Union: something that could be decisive for his first few months In office If he does become prime minister.


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