KEITH NEWBERY Boris and his big personality potentially pose a major threat

The contest to become mayor of London was the political equivalent of a bare-knuckle brawl between two men who share a deep mutual loathing.

So, when Boris Johnson kicked, scratched and snarled his way to victory over Ken Livingstone, it drew a few ragged and relieved cheers from Tory redoubts up and down the land.

But enthusiasm was understandably dampened by the municipal blood-bath the party had endured the night before, so the smattering of applause was drowned out by the slurping sound of wounds being mournfully licked.

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It’s fair to assume this one flickering beacon, in a dark night of the Conservative soul, will have received an even more muted reception at numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street.

There is only one thing more acute than the pain of a personal defeat, and that is the agony caused by the triumph of an enemy.

And be under no illusion, Boris Johnson is a far greater threat to Messrs Cameron and Osborne than either Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband, because he has it within his power to remove both men from office.

His success in London has merely reinforced the fact that his appeal transcends party loyalty – and that’s a rare and precious quality in politics.

Ken Livingstone may be the worst type of socialist – sanctimonious, sneering and seriously self-deluded.

He may also benefit from tax arrangements which, though legal, are hideously hypocritical given his previous pronouncements on the subject.

But he is also a wily and ruthless campaigner who was expected to take full advantage of the anti-coalition groundswell building up in the rest of the country.

Yet Johnson hung in there and won an election which would have been beyond the scope of any other Tory in the land.

He is the living embodiment of the fact that voters disenchanted with policies can be won over by personality – a characteristic which will become even more attractive to grass-roots Conservatives as the next election nears.

But they are lumbered with Cameron until then, and he and Clegg have no choice but to cling to the same tatty lifebelt.

But both will be ditched by their parties soon after the next election – at which point Boris Johnson will be summoned from the capital to perform his white-knight routine.