The man who would be king. 

London's Mayor Declares War on Europe

Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg View columnist and writes editorials on economics, finance and politics. He was London bureau chief for Bloomberg News and is the author of “Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable.”
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After months of what he himself calls "weasel mode," London Mayor Boris Johnson today admittedwhat everyone else had already guessed: he plans to stand as a member of Parliament in next year's election. Unacknowledged was a truth universally known to all: BoJo, as Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is affectionately known, is a man in possession of the kind of ambition unlikely to be satisfied by anything less than the role of Prime Minister.

Ostensibly, the mayor's press conference at Bloomberg's London headquarters was to present a report by his economic adviser on the need for Britain to either renegotiate the terms of its European Union membership, or to get out of the club. But the blond bombshell decided to drop a bombshell. Asked whether government, rather than City Hall, wasn't a better place to shape British policy, Johnson ensured that his picture will be plastered all over tomorrow's newspaper front pages:

We've danced around this for an awfully long time now. I can't endlessly go on dodging these questions. I haven't got any particular seat lined up but I do think in all probability, since you can't do these things furtively, in all probability I will find somewhere to stand in 2015.

Johnson is a ridiculously skilled orator, and today's speech was characteristically peppered with catchphrases and historical references. European bureaucracy is what the Normans would have called the "mort main," a dead hand "helping to fur the arteries to the point of sclerosis;" Britain is plagued by "the nitrogen of anti-immigration anxiety;" the introduction of the euro was accompanied with scaremongering that "giant mutant rats would devour the emaciated faces of the last bankers in London" if Britain didn't join the single currency.

But it's surprisingly hard to say whether Johnson, a former journalist and Westminster politician who's been mayor since 2008, is fit to run the country. Many of London's recent successes were already underway when he took office, notably the expansion of the public transport system that means you genuinely can get around the capital by bus efficiently, as well as a popular and well-designed cycle-hire program -- known universally as "Boris Bikes" even though his predecessor Ken Livingstone claims to have first commissioned a feasibility study in August 2007.

What Johnson does have is buckets of charisma, fantastic hair that seems to have a life of its own, and a seeming willingness to veer fearlessly off script that's refreshing in this age of media-marshalled politicians. He's a true eccentric, easily pictured rattling around a country manor with a glass of port in one hand and a volume of obscure Greek poetry in the other, but lacking the arrogance that some of the current British cabinet seem to exude. Even given Johnson's penchant for obscure references and his Eton and Oxford background, he does come across as a man of the people -- he even cycled to today's presentation.

Today, he dodged the question of how far his political ambitions currently go. In April, using language that has most people reaching for a dictionary, he told Total Politics magazine that the prime ministership was a near impossibility:

It's what we call an adynaton, something that is most unlikely to happen. Water more likely to flow up hill, hell freezing over, that sort of thing.

First, as is the way of things in British politics, he has to find a constituency. That shouldn't be a problem, though he needs to finagle some way around the problem of how to combine two jobs until his term as mayor ends in 2016. Once the current incumbent David Cameron decides it's time to go and make some money, Johnson is definitely electable -- and the Conservative Party will probably prove sufficiently Machiavellian to embrace such a popular character without hesitation.

And, he also has great hair. Did I mention the hair?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mark Gilbert at magilbert@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Toby Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net