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Boris plays down 'Tory rift' claim
Friends of Boris Johnson have sought to play down claims of a feud within the Conservatives amid suggestions the Mayor of London was the victim of a dirty tricks campaign at the hands of Chancellor George Osborne.
Mr Johnson is understood to be surprised by reports that he had been urged to stand in the general election and has insisted he will serve out his term in City Hall.
Allegations of a rift flared up after reports in The Times yesterday that Mr Osborne had personally delivered a message to Mr Johnson that he should fight in 2015, a move observers said was an attempt to call his bluff.
Some supporters of the mayor claimed the Chancellor's camp had embarked on a deliberate attempt to thwart any future bid to become Tory leader, according to the Mail on Sunday.
It quotes an ally accusing Mr Osborne of trying to "destabilise Boris".
" This is nothing to do with party loyalty and everything to do with Osborne and Cameron trying to destabilise Boris.
"He saw it coming a mile off. They want to make sure that if the Tories lose, Boris gets as much flak as they do and can't stand as leader as a 'break with the failed Cameron- Osborne regime'."
It is understood that there has been no conversation during which the Chancellor urged Mr Johnson to fight the election but he is said to be relaxed about the reports.
No offer has been made over the job of party chairman but it is believed that Mr Johnson would not accept such a proposal while he was running London.
Sources said that discussions the mayor has with Prime Minister David Cameron and Mr Osborne focus on the 2015 campaign, not his future role within the party.
A close friend of the mayor last night played down reports of a feud, telling the Press Association: "Boris' focus is on London - it was in 2012, when he stood for a second term, it will be in 2016 when he finishes that term.
"In between only two things matter to Boris - delivering for London, and ensuring we have a majority Conservative government led by David Cameron after 2015. Boris will be out and about doing all he can to make sure that happens."
Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps told BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show: "We all think Boris is a fantastic London Mayor and he's got a lot to offer.
"He's doing a brilliant job in London, his term runs to 2016, so he's got a little way to go.
"What Boris does is up to Boris, we just think he has got a great contribution, he's part of what we are trying to do as a government, which is to make sure that the biggest bust in 100 years which we saw in that big recession is recovered from and that we end up with families that are better off with less debt for our children to have to pay back.
"Now, Boris Johnson is an important part of dealing with that in London and I'm sure he's got a great future ahead of him."
Mr Shapps said it would be "crazy" for the Mayor not to be involved in the general election campaign because he is "a guy who is able to communicate incredibly well".
Jon Ashworth, Shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: "Working people are on average £1,600 a year worse off since 2010 - but this doesn't seem to matter to George Osborne, who is concentrating on his own future prospects.
"The Chancellor is spending his time fighting with Boris Johnson like ferrets in a sack over a Tory leadership vacancy after the next election.
"Senior Tories should be getting to grips with the cost-of-living crisis facing ordinary families, not putting their own interests first."