BBC News

Boris Johnson and the future PM question

By Chris Mason
Political correspondent, BBC News

media captionDocumentary-maker Michael Cockerell says Boris Johnson is a "canny player of the political game"

It is an era where institutions and figures of authority are held in a lower regard than ever before.

The newspapers have had to weather the phone hacking scandal.

The BBC has had to weather the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Politicians have had to weather the expenses scandal.

It has been dubbed the era of "anti politics".

Critics claim Westminster is awash with identikit clones who look the same and sound the same.

So perhaps it is little wonder that one politician more than any other, who appears to ooze authenticity, garners so much attention.

His name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Or, just plain Boris. The Mayor of London is, after all, pretty much the only politician in the land known just by his first name.

The Westminster village has been chatting about Michael Cockerell's BBC documentary about Mr Johnson for weeks, eager to scrutinise his every utterance for the tiniest glimpse of an insight into the mayor's future ambitions.

Up until now, Boris Johnson had said he was as likely to be prime minister as to be reincarnated as an olive, or decapitated by a frisbee.

But he went further when Michael Cockerell asked him the question he is always asked, and almost always swerves. Does he want to be prime minister?

"If the ball came loose from the back of the scrum, which it won't of course, it would be a great, great thing to have a crack at."

A great thing to have a crack at. The sort of phrase most of us might use to describe being persuaded to play for the local cricket team. Not run the country.

As things stand Boris Johnson does not even have a seat at Westminster. So being an MP, let alone party leader, let alone prime minister is some way off, and to some at least, laughable.

'Coat of Teflon'

But then not many years ago people would have laughed at the idea of Boris Johnson ever becoming Mayor of London. And now he is serving a second term.

"Boris makes people feel good about themselves, it's an incredibly powerful force to have in politics. Not many people have that and therefore he can get away with a lot," observed Labour's Ken Livingstone in the documentary.

image captionBoris Johnson speaks, watched by David Cameron, during the 2003 debate on the Iraq war

Twice Mr Livingstone was Boris Johnson's opponent to be London's Mayor; twice Boris Johnson beat him.

And, no disputes, Boris Johnson has got away with a lot. Take the flurry of stories about his private life. Or the time he fell into a river in front of the cameras. Or the time he got stuck on a zipwire, in front of the cameras.

And that is before we consider his sacking from the Conservative frontbench for lying to his party leader or being sacked from The Times for making up quotes when he was a reporter.

His force of personality, up to now at least, has given him a political coat made of Teflon. Nothing seems to stick, nothing seems to finish him off.

His encounter with Eddie Mair on the Andrew Marr Show at the weekend was an uncomfortable outing at best for Mr Johnson, but again it doesn't appear that it will do him lasting damage.

For Conrad Black, the former owner of the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator who employed Boris Johnson, "he is a sly fox disguised as a teddy bear".

What next?

In other words, a politician who cuts through to the punters, often regardless of their politics, but who is a master strategist with his eye on the political horizon, the next opportunity.

Guto Harri, who worked until recently as Boris Johnson's Director of Communications, gave his first interview about working for the Mayor of London to the BBC documentary.

media captionEddie Mair grilled Boris Johnson about the documentary: "You're a nasty piece of work aren't you?"

His aim, he said strikingly, was to manage Mr Johnson's move "from being a celebrity to a statesman without losing his celebrity".

Many observers would judge that has been a success.

So what next for this towering political figure, who we know will be out of a job in three years, when his term as Mayor of London runs out?

"When people ask me 'does he want to be prime minister?' I always say 'he is much more ambitious than that'," his sister Rachel cheekily told Michael Cockerell.

If that ball does comes loose from the scrum, and it remains a big if, don't bet against Boris Johnson.

More on this story

  • Boris Johnson 'would like to be PM'

  • Boris Johnson grilled on integrity ahead of TV documentary