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Quirky, blond Boris keeps hold over Londoners

06 may 2012, 15:21
London Mayor Boris Johnson. ©AFP
London Mayor Boris Johnson. ©AFP
Boris Johnson, re-elected as Mayor of London in the city's Olympic year, is famed for his colourful oratory, his shock of wild blond hair and his lack of concern for political orthodoxy, AFP reports.

The Conservative returned to City Hall late Friday with 51.5 percent of the vote in a closely fought run-off with Labour rival Ken Livingstone.

While Johnson, 47, is known as much for his bizarre and comic behaviour as for his policies, he nevertheless seen in political circles as an ambitious operator.

Some commentators even regard him as a potential threat to party leader and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Johnson won the London post from left-winger Livingstone in 2008 and made a hit with the introduction of Paris-style rental bicycles, known as "Boris bikes" -- despite them having been Livingstone's idea.

He also won some hearts with a revamped take on London's iconic red rear-entrance Routemaster buses, and flexed his political muscle soon after first being elected by forcing out the city's unpopular police chief Ian Blair.

But with the mayoral role carrying limited powers, Johnson is equally famous for moments like falling a river on a publicity appearance and dismissing 2004 claims of an affair as an "inverted pyramid of piffle".

He was sacked as a shadow minister when his party decided it was Johnson who had lied about the affair.

More recently, he first dismissed the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News International as "codswallop", then responded to media reports linking him with the company with a televised string of expletives.

But the gaffes and scandals that would have felled many politicians have left him largely untouched.

Unlike many Conservatives, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has not tried to hide his elite roots.

He was educated at the exclusive Eton College and Oxford University before becoming a trainee reporter at Murdoch's Times broadsheet, but he was fired for making up a quote.

He worked at right-leaning publications the Daily Telegraph and Spectator before being elected as a member of parliament in 2001. He has also found time to publish several books and present two BBC documentary series.

For all his eccentricities, few people doubt that Johnson has a razor-sharp mind. His critics however, argue that his buffoonery masks a strongly right-wing agenda.

Johnson has distanced himself from the ruling Conservative-led coalition and during the campaign appeared keen not to be photographed with Cameron, whose personal ratings have dipped over the last month.

But his own popularity is such that Cameron tried to lure voters to back plans for more elected mayors by promising "a Boris in every city".

That plan is in tatters, with nine cities rejecting the introduction of elected mayors in referenda on Friday, while Conservatives also fared miserably in local council polls.

In his own speech as the results were announced just before midnight, defeated Livingstone suggested Johnson could unseat Cameron as party leader.

"I expect this result has settled the question of the next Tory leadership election," said the Labour veteran with a smile.

By Judith Evans

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