Perhaps it wasn’t surprising given the paucity of talent on display (we wanted Glastonbury, they gave us the V Festival), but it’s still notable that it was Boris Johnson, rather than any of the performers, who received the biggest cheer at last night’s Olympics closing ceremony. The Games began with thousands chanting “Boris! Boris!” in Hyde Park, they ended with them roaring at the mere mention of his name in Stratford. It’s hard to think of any other politician who could enjoy such a reception because, put simply, there isn’t one.
Some will argue that this reflects the executive weakness of the Mayor’s office. He’s not a leader, he’s a mascot. But Ken Livingstone never enjoyed such adoration and no alternative Labour (David Lammy?) or Conservative Mayor (Seb Coe?) would. The result is that Boris is now spoken of as a potential prime minister by both the left and the right, and viewed as an increasing threat by Labour.
Over the same period, for the first time since David Cameron became Prime Minister, conservative commentators have begun to question whether he will last until the election. He will, of course, but the mere posing of the question, just two years into his premiership, is an indictment of his leadership. Unsurprisingly, then, Cameron is increasingly unsettled by the Tories’ prince across the Thames. In his final comments before he departed for his Mediterranean holiday, he pointedly noted that Boris had “some huge challenges to meet across the capital in his second term”. Elsewhere, he stated: “I’m delighted that my party has so many big hitters. I’ve got the opposite of tall poppy syndrome.” But even if that were true (with the possible exception of Ken Clarke, one searches in vain for a “big hitter” on the frontbench), Cameron would be forced to concede that there is no bigger hitter than Boris.
The danger for the Mayor, perhaps, is that he has peaked too soon. Will his brand of bonhomie be tired by 2015? I suspect not, and the Olympics will be remembered as the moment that the Tories (to their joy) and Labour (to its terror) realised as much.