Boris Johnson needs to shed his reputation for eccentricity to convert his London mayoral bid into the serious policy battle with Labour, a leading employers’ body told the FT Monday night.

Business welcomed the decision by Mr Johnson to stand for the Tory candidacy to fight Ken Livingstone in next May’s elections. The entry into the race of the high-profile, gaffe-prone journalist and politician should ensure the twice-elected Mr Livingstone faces a genuine contest. Business on Monday expressed a hope the ensuing battle would encompass ideas, rather than simply personalities.

“We want a credible competition, with a serious discussion of the issues, to test out the merits of Ken’s position,” Miles Templeman, director general, Institute of Directors, said.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told the FT: “Ken is a serious player and fights hard for London. Boris will have to rid himself of being seen as an eccentric figure if he is to make an impact.” Mr Frost highlighted the Conservatives’ protracted search for potential candidates, asking: “Why has it taken so long for the Tories to find a candidate to stand in what is one of the key global cities?”

That question had begun to haunt David Cameron. Mr Johnson’s decision to stand ends the Tory leader’s prolonged and politically embarrassing search for high-profile contenders. Mr Cameron last year pledged to open up the candidacy to an X Factor-style talent contest. But he has had difficulty finding credible candidates, being re­buffed by – among others – Greg Dyke, Sir John Major, Lord Coe and Michael Portillo.

The official Tory candidate will not be announced until September. The party will next month whittle down the 50-odd applicants to a shortlist of two to five, who will face hustings followed by a London-wide vote to select the winner.

But Mr Johnson is the only household name to date to throw his hat into the ring and he is the bookies’ strong favourite to win the candidacy. Ladbrokes on Monday put Mr Livingstone as narrow favourite to beat Mr Johnson in next spring’s contest.

Mr Johnson, who on Monday resigned as shadow minister for higher education, will remain as MP for Henley. He told a media scrum outside City Hall he was “thrilled and excited” about the forthcoming contest. Saying he would announce detailed proposals for the capital later this summer, Mr Johnson pledged to stand for a “greater London and for putting the smile back on London’s face”.

Boris Johnson on …

LIVERPOOL. ‘The mawkish sentimentality of a society that has become hooked on grief and likes to wallow in a sense of vicarious victimhood' - October 2004

PORTSMOUTH. ‘Too full of drugs, obesity, under-achievement and Labour MPs' - April 2007

PAPUA NEW GUINEA. 'For 10 years, we in the Tory party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing' - September 2006

HEALTHY EATING. 'If I was in charge, I'd get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they liked' - October 2006

ON BEING SACKED. 'There are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters' - After being sacked from the Conservative front bench by Michael Howard, December 2004

…And David Cameron on Boris Johnson. 'Boris is Boris' - October 2006

Online views: readers have their say

'Let's have some commonsense and fun along the way - VOTE BORIS' - Simon Miesegaes

'London desperately needs a boring administrator, not another flamboyant cowboy' - John Stroughair

'Boris is the larger than life character to take the weasel on!' - Felicity Pike

Will he dedicate himself to making often unpopular decisions for a cleaner, healthier city? To challenge prevailing opinion to improve traffic and transport? Or is he just an eccentric character from Henley?' - Justin

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