Boris Johnson’s Quest for 10 Downing Street

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from TIME Magazine,

He’s the mayor of London, and the joker of U.K. politics. But he wants to be the next prime minister.

Boris Johnson

Londoners love to grumble about overcrowding, but their mayor insists that the city’s rapid population growth should be celebrated. “In one week’s time, there will be a birth in a London maternity ward somewhere,” says Boris Johnson. “What we need is the wise men to gather around the crib with … I don’t know …” The Conservative politician, who is rarely at a loss for words, deploying them in great flurries, quickly finds a punch line: “Oyster cards!” The image of latter-day Magi bearing gifts of the mass-transit passes used by Londoners is deliberately absurd. Comedy almost always sugars Johnson’s serious intent.

The growing pains afflicting global magnet cities such as London and New York are certainly serious. At some point this year, the British capital’s population is expected to reach the highest level in its history, passing the previous record of 8.615 million in 1939. Looking out from his city-hall office at a skyline gaudy with recently built high-rises, Johnson acknowledges that every newborn Londoner means more pressure on housing and public services–as well as more nebulous worries about how different communities in this megacity get along or, as he puts it, “what kind of baby this is.”

“It is my job to show how all the anxieties about that baby can be answered,” he concludes.

His tousled presence masks an ambition that a former colleague–an admirer–describes as “pathological” and “voracious” and that David Lammy, a Member of Parliament who aims to secure the Labour Party’s nomination for the next mayoral contest, labels “ruthless.”

Friends and foes alike believe that Johnson’s ambitions will not be sated by his likely election to Parliament in the U.K.’s May 7 general elections. Johnson, 50, says he’s returning to Westminster to help his fellow Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron retain power. He is also the front runner to succeed him. Startling changes to Britain’s political landscape mean that moment may be close at hand.

Now burgeoning numbers within the Conservative Party are avid to propel their disheveled hero to the top. The mainstream parties–the Conservatives, their Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the Labour opposition–have lost public trust, political direction and clear dividing lines. Their weakness has created space for alternatives such as the anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), which topped the 2014 European parliamentary elections and won two by-elections, and the Scottish National Party (SNP), which last September fell short of achieving its goal of Scottish independence but deepened its base of support.

The math suggests that Britons may wake up on May 8 to a deadlocked political system and the prospect of further elections if no viable coalition can be forged from the fragments of old certainties.

If this scenario comes to pass or the Conservatives are bumped into opposition, worried Tories see the possibility of salvation in Boris, a crowd pleaser known–like Bono, Rihanna and Madonna–by one name alone. He is by a hefty margin Britain’s most popular politician, easily besting … Cameron

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