London mayor Boris Johnson won over delegates at the Conservative conference in Manchester today with a wide-ranging speech that fuelled speculation the MP for Uxbridge will challenge chancellor George Osborne to be the party's next leader.
Johnson, who sits in the Prime Minister's political cabinet but is often unafraid to challenge the government's positions, used his speech to a packed conference centre today to both defend the ideals of the Conservative party, while also distancing himself from key government policies, including cuts to welfare tax credits.
In a sharp attack on the Marxist views of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Johnson said that the Conservatives "don’t believe in destroying capitalism, because for all its faults capitalism is the best means humanity has yet found of satisfying our wants and needs".
Prodding at the Prime Minister's "big society" pledge, Johnson added that the country needs "not just a big society, but a united society, where the different elements are bound together by an irreducible set of values, democracy and freedom and equality under the law".
Criticising Corybn's refusal to sing the national anthem at a service in St Paul's Cathedral last month, Johnson added: "If dear Jezza is wondering whether to sing the national anthem, can I recommend that he comes to City Hall for our annual citizenship ceremony where people from around the world queue to have a selfie – not with me, but with a picture on an easel of the Queen."
Johnson, who has voiced Eurosceptic views in the past, also said that he was confident in the Prime Minister's ability to get "the right deal now from our EU partners".
In a nod to the City, Johnson said that while he is "still just about the only politician to speak out in favour of bankers", Tories "cannot ignore the gulf in pay packets that yawns wider year by year".
Johnson said that people would only "accept" higher executive pay if they felt that the "dynamic, entrepreneurial, high-reward capitalist system is actually helping to take everyone forward".
"We will accept it if and only if they pay their taxes," Johnson said, adding, "And only if those firms are paying their employees decently."
And in a move that is likely to put renewed pressure on the government over its forthcoming decision on the Airports Commission's recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow, Johnson warned: "If we are going to build new airport capacity let’s not bodge it with one runway in the wrong place in a short termist and environmentally disastrous solution."
Johnson has long pushed for a brand-new airport in the Thames Estuary - a so-called Boris Island - instead.