MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Mayor of London Boris Johnson fired up the Conservative Party conference Tuesday with a rousing call to arms for Britain’s 2015 election and a challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin on cucumbers.
This time last year Johnson was riding high after his re-election and a successful London Olympic Games, and many were touting him as a potential successor to Cameron.
This threat appears to have receded as Cameron’s poll ratings improve amid signs of economic recovery, and the prime minister clearly enjoyed Johnson’s speech — even if on some risque jokes he tried to pretend he wasn’t laughing.
The mayor played to the patriotic crowd by dismissing recent reported comments by a Russian official that Britain was just a “small island” with no international influence.
“I don’t want to risk polonium in my sushi by bandying statistics with the Kremlin,” he said, a reference to the radioactive poisoning of ex-Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, which Britain blames on Moscow.
But Johnson argued that London was home to so many rich Russians because of its numerous benefits, including green spaces that help it produce 2 million cucumbers a year.
“Eat your heart out, Vladimir Putin,” he said, adding: “It is partly due to our staggering cucumber yields, comrades, that London now contributes almost 25 percent of U.K. GDP.”
To those Euroskeptics considering voting for the U.K. Independence Party, he repeated Cameron’s argument that only a Tory government could deliver the promised renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership and then a referendum by 2017.
And he also vowed to take the fight to Labour, who were ousted by the coalition in 2010 after 13 years in power.
“Do we want to put them back on the bridge when they ran the ship aground? I got in terrible trouble for comparing it to the Costa Concordia; people said it was tasteless of me. So, OK, what about the Titanic — is that more acceptable?” he said.
Johnson attacked Labour for suggesting that London’s crime rate was comparable with that of Rio de Janeiro, which will host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“You’re not only 20 times more likely to be murdered in Rio as you are in London, four times more likely to be murdered in New York, you’re twice as likely to be murdered in sleepy old Brussels!” he proclaimed.
The only ruffle in an otherwise smooth performance came when Johnson — who was educated at the elite Eton College and Oxford University — admitted in a BBC interview that he did not know the price of a pint of milk, drawing criticisms that he is out of touch.
Just hours later, Cameron admitted that he did not know the price of a loaf of bread, but said this was because he made his own. Cameron, 46, also a product of Eton and Oxford, said he did not buy the cheapest sliced supermarket loaf as he used an electric bread-maker and flour made in his wealthy constituency in southern England.
“You get some of that, beautifully milled in the Cotswolds, you pop that in your bread-maker. You set the timer overnight so when you wake up there is this wonderful smell wafting through your kitchen,” he told LBC radio.
Michael Dugher, vice chair of the Labour Party said: “David Cameron is so out of touch he’s almost a parody of himself.
“It comes as no surprise that he doesn’t buy a value loaf of bread. The only surprise is when he said ‘I have a bread-maker’ — most people will have assumed he had his own personal baker, rather than a machine.”