David Cameron returns to work at Downing Street from his Cornish holiday on Wednesday with a double whammy of a political headache after his two great foes – one within and one outside the Conservative party – embarked on the first steps of a possible journey to Westminster.
Boris Johnson, who has been burnishing his Eurosceptic credentials as he limbers up to stand in the next Tory leadership contest, confirmed he is putting his name forward to stand in the safe west London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
The move means that Johnson is all but certain to resume his parliamentary career next May, placing him in pole position to contest the Tory leadership if the prime minister is forced out after a general election defeat.
The London mayor made his announcement hours before Nigel Farage appeared at a hustings in Ramsgate, where he was selected as the Ukip candidate in the Tory-held seat of South Thanet, Kent. Farage's candidacy, in a seat where Ukip came first in a recent poll by the Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, will guarantee that the Conservatives will be dogged by speculation right up to polling day on 7 May next year about the possible threat posed by the party.
Farage will face the tougher fight, even though he led Ukip to victory in the recent European parliamentary elections. The party's vote share falls dramatically after European elections, suggesting that Farage will face a battle to win a parliamentary seat, even though Ukip won 27.5% of the vote in May – more than 10 points higher than its vote in 2009.
Johnson, who confirmed earlier this month that he planned to return to parliament, announced that he would seek to stand as the Tory candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which was held by Tory MP Sir John Randall with a majority of 11,216 at the 2010 general election. Johnson, who will submit a formal application to the local Tory association by Thursday, told the Evening Standard: "I am sure there will be plenty of excellent candidates and I look forward to making my case to the association."
Johnson's announcement came as South Thanet was catapulted to the forefront of British politics as local Ukip members selected Farage to be their general election candidate, setting up an intriguing battle in which his opponents include a Tory candidate who was once a former Ukip leader.
In many ways ideal Ukip territory – described by one expert as "an economically stagnant coastal seat, where there are lots of older, white and angry voters" – the seat has long been regarded as one of those offering Ukip its best chance of getting an MP elected to parliament.
Johnson and Farage, who have both developed the knack of dominating the headlines from outside Westminster, have resorted to the similar tactic of making professions of false modesty in their quest to enter parliament.
Johnson declared earlier this month that he would "try to find somewhere" to stand, adding playfully it was "highly likely I will be unsuccessful in that venture". He knows that his appeal is likely to knock out almost any other aspiring Tory candidate.
Farage had been at pains to insist that he was "no shoo-in" before the selection vote in central Ramsgate.During the hustings in Kent, the only slight criticism from another candidate of Farage's suitability for the nomination came when barrister Piers Wauchope told members: "You need a candidate who'll be involved … not one who will phone up from afar and say where do you want me?'"
But, after his selection, Farage pledged to be in Thanet "every week" during the general election campaign. "I'm going to be here every week but I am a busy boy," he said.
He also served notice on Labour, claiming that his party was now "tearing strips of the old Labour vote".
"We will show the media that this idea that all Ukip voters are ex-Tories is baloney," he said. To cheers, he added: "Don't think that the heavy artillery from the Conservatives and Labour parties will not be fired on this constituency. They do not want Ukip breaking through to parliament … certainly not me."
Meanwhile, Johnson, whose call for Heathrow to be closed and replaced with a new Thames estuary airport will provide valuable ammunition to his opponents in a constituency where the airport is a major employer, will be encouraged by a poll suggesting he would easily win.
The poll commissioned by Ashcroft, the Conservative peer, found that when voters in Uxbridge were asked how they planned to vote, the Tories were on 42% (down six points from 2010) and Labour were on 28% (up five). But when the same question was asked with Johnson named as the candidate, the Conservative vote rose to 52%.
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