THE Eurozone crisis deepens by the day. Britain looks on, waiting for the nuclear fall-out that is sure to follow the explosion. Increasingly, I suspect the “credit easing” plan announced by the chancellor on Monday is a clear signal that the UK government expects things to get much, much worse. Ostensibly designed to help small and medium-sized firms, it will see the government sell more gilts and use the cash to buy commercial bonds.
The focus on smaller firms allows the government to dip its toe in the water, to cross the rubicon that divides the state and private investors. Then, in the event of another credit crunch, it will be able to capitalise on the bubble in government debt, selling gilts at ridiculously low rates and using the proceeds to prop up UK plc, including the banks. The consequences – tens of billions of pounds of potentially toxic debt squirrelled away on the government's balance sheet – could be very nasty indeed.
Amid all the doom and gloom, the Tories, who finish their party conference in Manchester this afternoon, need a little light relief. Boris Johnson is only too happy to oblige. The London mayor’s very presence in the convention centre has cheered things up, while his speech was a tour de force: a raft of good gags; rallying oratory peppered with references to all the things Tories love; and an off-the-cuff speaking style that is so refreshing in an age of staged-managed politics. He got two standing ovations.
It was David Cameron who jumped out of his seat to lead the second standing ovation, but in truth Boris is becoming increasingly irksome to the Tory leadership. Before his speech yesterday, he visited a factory in Manchester, supposedly because it makes the axles for London’s trains. It is virtually unknown for a London mayor to make this kind of regional outing, which is usually the preserve of the Prime Minister, chancellor or business secretary. Unless, of course, the London mayor is campaigning for a bigger job, like party leader or Prime Minister.
Not that Boris needs to raise his profile. Yesterday I spotted him walking back to his hotel with his entourage when a group of teenagers started shouting “we love you Boris!” from across the road. These weren't Tory activists, just normal kids. The MP I was with said Boris was the most recognisable politician in the country, before ruminating on whether Boris could become Tory leader. I don’t doubt that he’s popular in the Tory party, but could the public again commit to someone as eccentric as the late Ted Heath? With Ed Miliband leading the Labour party, anything is possible.
All this is conjecture unless Boris actually runs, but I’d wager he will. In his speech to the Conservative Home activists rally – another important constituency for any would-be leader – he said his “sensible, moderate administration would take forward this great city.” Then he corrected himself. “No not this city – this is Manchester.” A freudian slip? Perhaps.