Do this yearâ€™s double local elections provide a return route?
If the bookies are right, Boris Johnson is well-placed for a second term as Londonâ€™s Mayor. If the pollsters most recent results are right, itâ€™s too close to call. Those two things arenâ€™t necessarily contradictory – the polls reflect peopleâ€™s intentions now whereas the bookies are taking bets on what they expect to happen in May.
It may be that Johnson will campaign more effectively than Livingston, or that the approaching Olympics will benefit the incumbent. Alternatively, the odds may be in part reflecting the weight of money being placed.
Whatever, the fact remains that in party terms, the Conservatives are polling substantially behind Labour in London in Westminster voting intention, and that while Boris out-performs his partyâ€™s rating (and Livingstone under-performs his), thereâ€™s still a reasonable chance that Ken might win.
If so, what then happens to Boris? One intriguing possibility is opened up by the second set of local elections this year, in November. Thatâ€™s when the police commissioners will be elected, as well as several big-city mayors (subject to local referenda to be held in May). There has already been interest shown in both sets of positions by various Labour politicians, but then theyâ€™re not in power nationally and this would be one route back to office for them.
For a Tory or Lib Dem MP to leave parliament to take up the role would be a greater sacrifice but one or more might be tempted to give it a go anyway. If so, and if elected, that would then bring about the prospect of the sort of by-election that a defeated Boris might be interested in should he harbour ambitions to return to Westminster. For that matter, there may be a string of by-elections next Winter resulting from MPâ€™s having to stand down to take up Commissionerships or Mayoralities.
As an aside, another factor to throw into that mix is the impending boundary review. In areas where one party predominates and where seats are being cut some MPs might not fancy their chances in selection battles against local colleagues and the executive local positions may look like an attractive avoidance strategy. Likewise for those who face the prospect of their majority being slashed by new boundaries.
There are a lot of â€˜ifsâ€™ there but none of them are particularly outrageous. To summarise, six events would need to take place: Boris would need to lose in May, one or more Tory MP would need to choose to contest a police commissionership (presumably for one of the South East forces), they would need to win, Boris would have to be interested in the vacancy, he would have to be selected, then he would have to win the seat.
Were such a run of events to take place, thereâ€™d inevitably be speculation about Boris as a future Conservative leader. It would be misplaced. Whether or not he ends up back in the House this parliament (and he probably wonâ€™t), he has a lot of ground to make up yet to be taken sufficiently seriously as a politician to become a contender. Thereâ€™s also the strong suspicion that heâ€™s too much of a maverick and not a team player: fine in a mayor – in fact to be encouraged – a problem in a front-bencher in Westminster.
Be that as it may, the double round of local elections this year creates the possibility of Boris livening things up more than once.