London Mayor Boris Johnson said he’s not intending to make a bid to become U.K. Conservative Party leader after being quoted as saying last week that he missed being a member of Parliament.
“I have no such plans,” Johnson said in an interview today when asked to clarify whether he still has ambitions to lead the Tories. “Ever, now, whenever.”
Johnson, who’s favorite among Tory activists to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron as party leader, has hinted that he would be ready to do the job if called upon. He was quoted by the Financial Times last week as saying that “for the first time in years, I wished I was in Parliament” during last month’s debate over whether to take military action against Syria.
Johnson, who would have to return to Parliament as a lawmaker in order to run for the Tory leadership, has previously refused to rule himself out as a future head of the party. Cameron is currently trailing the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls and there is speculation he may face a leadership challenge if the Tories lose the 2015 general election.
Johnson made his comments in Middleton, on the outskirts of Manchester, the northern English city where the Tories are holding their annual party conference. The London mayor is scheduled to address the convention tomorrow morning.
A poll of 852 Conservative Party members carried out by YouGov Plc on behalf of Tim Bale, who teaches politics at Queen Mary, University of London, found 38 percent would vote for Johnson as their first preference, with Home Secretary Theresa May second with 18 percent.
Johnson made a lower-profile entrance to the Tory conference this year than in 2012. Last year he was greeted by ranks of photographers and crowds chanting “Boris, Boris” at Birmingham’s New Street station. Today he visited a factory in Middleton that makes signage for London buses, part of a drive to show that the capital has created jobs elsewhere around the country.
The mayor appeared this evening at a rally at the Manchester conference center, starting off by telling his audience how he’d turned down an invitation to speak at the conference two weeks ago of the anti-European Union U.K. Independence Party, which has been drawing support from the Tories. He’d been asked to speak by the wife of UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
“Of course I was very, very flattered and amused that I almost said yes -- and then thought, no, no, this is the moment to lash myself to the mast and resist the siren song of Kirsten Farage,” he said. “With a general election less than two years away there is only one relevant fact, and that is that the party she supports would deprive me and everyone in my generation of a chance to have a vote on a European referendum” by ensuring the opposition Labour Party wins power.
“UKIP if you want to -- David Cameron’s not for kipping,” Johnson said. “Not unless, obviously, he’s at his sister-in-law’s wedding,” he added, referring to recent pictures that showed the premier taking a nap at that event.
Johnson’s reference also recalled Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 Tory conference statement: “You turn if you want to -- the lady’s not for turning.”
Johnson later told LBC radio that he will step down as London mayor when his term ends in 2016, saying he has a “shelf life” and that “a man has got to know his limitations” even though there is “more stuff that we can do and more stuff we need to do.”