Boris Johnson addresses delegates at the CBI conference in London on November 4, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Boris hasn't ruled out becoming an MP in 2015

Contrary to reports, the mayor is keeping all options open.

Boris Johnson's comments on his LBC phone-in show ("Ask Boris") this morning are being reported as him ruling himself out of standing for parliament in 2015. Asked by presenter Nick Ferrari whether he was preparing to return to the Commons (following the Times's story on Saturday), he said: 

As I've never tired of telling you in the past 18 months, I'm going to get on with my job as Mayor of London.

Think of the joy of being Mayor of London. Do you know the things we're doing?

Let me tell you about something we've been doing. They've been working for months in Hammersmith and Fulham on plans to take that flyover and make it a flyunder. We've been listening to these plans for months, thinking it's never going to happen.

But actually, it is brilliant. It's a most fantastic scheme. We're going to tunnelise the flyover. The timescale will be in three or four years. What was so interesting was that even the hardened TfL engineers looked at this, having been pretty skeptical, and they thought it was a great scheme.

"If you've got that kind of scheme on your agenda, the daily excitement of helping to run the greatest city on Earth, why would you want to do anything else?

Then asked if he was "not going into the Commons prior to 2015 because of the excitement of the Hammersmith flyunder?", he replied: "Correct. The sheer excitement of the Hammersmith flyunder is...the answer is I’m sticking to my job that I was elected to do in 2012." 

It is this response that has prompted the headlines stating he will not stand as an MP in 2015. But the question, as you will have noticed, was on whether he would seek to enter the Commons before 2015 (through a by-election), not whether he would do so at that year's general election. 

As for Boris's assertion that he's sticking to his job, there is nothing to stop him becoming an MP and continuing to serve as mayor. Indeed, there is a precedent. As he will know, after the 2000 mayoral election, Ken Livingstone remained the MP for Brent East until 2001.

One senior Conservative told the Independent last year:

He could not wear two hats for a long period but doing it for 12 months would not cause a great controversy. Tory associations in London and the Home Counties would queue up to have him as their candidate. He would say he was representing London in Parliament for a year.

For now, the mayor is wisely keeping all options open. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.