Boris Johnson has burnished his credentials as a future Prime Minister after an electrifying speech to the Tory conference and the promise of a Cabinet job from David Cameron.
The Mayor of London won a lengthy standing ovation as he declared he would not be “assassinated by his political opponents”, warned the Government over tax credit cuts and accused George Osborne of stealing his best policies.
Mr Cameron, who sat in on Mr Johnson’s speech but not Theresa May’s, later confirmed for the first time that he would invite him ‘into my team at No.10’ once his City Hall term ends next May.
The Mayor took his turn in the Conservative leadership "beauty pageant" at the party conference in Manchester, delivering a speech that mixed jokes with a heavy emphasis on social justice as he underlined his pitch as a moderate "One Nation" leader.
Exploiting Labour’s leftwing shift under Jeremy Corbyn, he said that his political mission was to unite rather than divide voters and underlined his record in backing a living wage, building new rail links and tackling inequality.
In interview with BBC News, the Prime Minister pledged for the first time to give Mr Johnson a Cabinet post. “I want to have the big figures in my team. That’s why I’m looking forward to Boris finishing his time as Mayor and coming into my team in Number 10,” he said.
“We’ve got stars, we’ve got people with real stature and great ideas for the future of this country.” Asked if Boris would get a ministerial job, he replied: “Definitely. We will have to see which one, but definitely.”
Government sources suggested the post would be in the Cabinet rather than any junior ministerial rank. Some expect Mr Johnson to be handed a post involving infrastructure projects or possibly a party chairman role.
Despite a quiet return to Westminster and Tory membership polls putting him behind Mr Osborne in the leadership stakes, the Mayor signalled his political comeback with a rousing address to the conference.
In the most striking section, he appeared to square up to his rivals, who also include Home Secretary Theresa May and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.
During a riff on controlled immigration, he referred to being the "proud great grandson of a Turk" who fled to London but was "then assassinated by his political opponents". "A fate I intend to avoid," he said mischievously.
While not naming the Chancellor, he launched a volley at Mr Osborne for stealing his ideas, including regional devolution of power and the new National Living wage.
He said: "In fact the only type of crime currently going up is the theft of City Hall policies – a crime I entirely condone."
Mr Johnson has suggested recently "a new generation of Tory thrusters" were ahead of him in the race, before adding: "Churchill was 65 when he became Prime Minister.”
In his speech to conference, he also clashed with senior Tories over planned cuts to tax credits, "top-up" benefits for low-paid workers, saying the Government had to "protect the hardest working and lowest paid".
Making a lengthy case for defending the "poor", a phrase seldom used by Tory politicians, he said without "the retail staff, the cleaners, who get up in the small hours or work through the night because they have dreams for what their families can achieve" the London economy "would simply collapse".
Against protests outside the Manchester conference centre from hard-left activists, who he labelled "our crusty friends", he argued capitalism could be used to deliver "social and economic progress" in a "One Nation way".
He then joked about how this involved "bringing people together", and used a rugby analogy based on his "happiest formative afternoons" spent as a tight head prop.
The crucial thing, he said, was to "bind on tightly and correctly" with the next player. "In my case to the hooker. Insert joke here, as Jeremy Corbyn’s autocue would say," he boomed, referring to the Labour leaders gaffe last week.
Political journalists gave the speech five-star reviews.
That was not just the best speech of this conference, it was Boris' best ever speech. And I've heard from lots of em.— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) October 6, 2015
In the style of Mark Twain reports of Boris Johnson's political death have been greatly exaggerated. Serious and funny— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) October 6, 2015
David Cameron actually looks like he's crying with laughter at Boris' speech— Jane Merrick (@janemerrick23) October 6, 2015
But with upto 20 ministers names' in the frame for the leadership, Iain Duncan Smith today sounded a warning to Mr Johnson and Mrs May: "All I would suggest to my colleagues is this: a little less on leadership and a little more on delivery, will do me just fine".