Whatever result is announced tonight, Boris Johnson has already emerged as the champion of a new strain of British Conservatism. London is now a Labour city, and yesterday’s election ought to have been a walkover for its candidate, Ken Livingstone. Yet Boris will either win, or come very close to doing so, because he has established an appeal far broader than that of David Cameron’s party. He has done so not by apologising for Conservatism, but by embodying its virtues – and his success has been astonishing. Even his detractors are beginning to wonder if the clown prince might just be on to something.
Regardless of the result, this election will leave Boris more influential than ever. If he wins, he will be seen as an undefeated champion of Conservatism – his secret being to keep a safe distance from the Prime Minister. If he is robbed of victory (and the potential for fraud among London’s postal votes makes anything possible) then the Cameron Omnishambles will be blamed. While the Mayor has proved that he is far more popular than his party, the Tory vote is the base on which he stands. Since the Budget, and the tragicomedy of errors that ensued, that vote has collapsed.