THE Tory leadership is now Boris Johnson’s to lose.
He has more MPs backing him than any other candidate and, in the words of one of those who knows the Tory parliamentary party best: “The wind is blowing in one direction.”
Everything is going right for the former London Mayor at the moment. Just look at how the court case against him over the Leave campaign’s £350million pledge has been quashed.
In a sign of the state of the race, the other campaigns are becoming increasingly frustrated with how the frontrunner is avoiding being grilled on radio and television.
“Why are they so afraid of their own candidate? He is their biggest risk,” grumbles one irritated rival.
At the same time, the Raab campaign — competing with Boris for Brexiteer votes — is publicly making the argument that the former Foreign Secretary is the most divisive candidate in the race.
But — so far — none of this is hurting Boris. He will formally launch his campaign next week with a speech and a question and answer session with journalists.
There is increasing talk among senior figures in the party that if the former Foreign Secretary comes out on top in the parliamentary rounds, it would be best to skip the members part of the contest and make him Prime Minister straight away.
The argument goes that the polling shows that Johnson is the members’ choice, and so they wouldn’t mind him being crowned.
Also, by ending the contest early, the new Prime Minister would have a chance to get cracking on Brexit.
As one of those behind this idea points out, if you stick to the current schedule, then you’ll have the new PM “hitting up Europe in the first week of August, when they are on the beach”. But others are wary of the idea.
They point out that the members haven’t had a say since David Cameron was elected in 2005, and that ending the contest early in 2016 meant that Theresa May wasn’t properly tested — which led to the disaster of the 2017 election.
There is also an argument that going to the members would help Johnson govern, as he would be able to say to Tory MPs that his Brexit policy has the backing of party members so they’re duty bound to support it.
What there is no doubt about is that the Johnson campaign would most like to face Jeremy Hunt in the final two. They regard this as the most predictable match-up.
After a rocky start, Hunt has had a better week. He is expected to unveil a slew of new supporters over the coming days.
Hunt’s main rival to get into the final two against Boris Johnson is Michael Gove.
A Johnson/Gove contest would be dramatic given how they fell out in 2016 — when Gove quit as Johnson’s campaign manager to run himself. I understand that in private, Johnson has taken to referring to Gove as “the Remainer’s Brexiteer”.
But a Johnson/Gove contest might not be as bitter as some expect. One close friend of Gove tells me that he will not run a “scorched earth campaign” if he ends up in the final two with Boris.
Over the next few weeks the country will be watching the Tories with particular interest.
They can either show them a party more interested in high-lighting each other’s weaknesses than anything else or one with lots of energy and new ideas, respectfully debating what’s best for the country.
If the Tories want to give their new leader a chance, they must take the latter path.
Tory leadership contender Dominic Raab accused Boris Johnson of ‘hiding away’ from TV debates[/caption]
Boris’ rival campaigns warned against any ‘stitch-up’ – pictured leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom[/caption]
Brexit a route to Labour
WANT to know how Jeremy Corbyn can become Prime Minister despite support for Labour declining?
Then, look at the Peterborough by-election result.
If the Tories do deliver Brexit, the Brexit Party will have to think about whether they want to help Jeremy Corbyn into No10[/caption]
Despite Labour’s share of the vote falling by 17 per cent, the party still held this marginal seat. Why? Because the Brexit Party and the Tories split the anti-Corbyn vote.
This shows two things. First, the Tories have pretty much no hope of winning an election until they have delivered Brexit. Until then the Brexit Party is simply going to take too much of their vote to allow them to beat Labour in the key battleground seats.
But if the Tories do deliver Brexit, then the Brexit Party have to think about whether they want to help Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.
Peterborough shows that when the Brexit Party and the Tories split their vote, Labour wins.
In a sign of how Boris Johnson will try to take on Nigel Farage if he becomes Tory leader, Boris has been warning people that Peterborough shows that if you vote Farage, you get Corbyn.
More than just a Westminster politician
MATT Hancock and Dominic Raab are both launching their campaigns in the same building on Monday morning.
But I am told the Hancock launch will be different.
Rather than launching to a room full of MPs, Hancock will address a crowd of entrepreneurs, cultural types, NHS workers and people from the tech industry – a mix that reflects the jobs that Hancock has done in government.
The aim is to try to show that Hancock is more than just a Westminster politician.
I CAN reveal that the former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon is backing Boris Johnson.
“I worked in Cabinet with Boris Johnson when he was Foreign Secretary and I was Defence Secretary. I saw him in action, week after week around the world, always putting Britain’s interests first.
“We took tough decisions, tackling ISIS terrorism and standing up to Russia. He was uncompromising in Britain’s defence,” Fallon tells this paper. Fallon’s backing is particularly significant given that he has worked with the past four Tory PMs. He is someone who knows what the job takes and has worked closely with Boris, saying he can do it.
Fallon’s other reason for backing Boris is: “We need a leader who will keep Corbyn out of No10. Corbyn and McDonnell would take this country back to the 1970s. We’ve done the tough years in sorting out the deficit, we can’t go back to borrowing on our children’s account.”
Fallon, who backed Remain in the referendum, swinging in behind Boris, shows that the Vote Leave leader is extending his reach well beyond the Brexit wing of the party.
But how many others in the party establishment will follow Fallon’s lead over the coming days?
A throwback to another age
DOMINIC Raab is under fire for refusing to say that he is a feminist.
But the Raab family finances show he isn’t – despite what his critics claim – a throwback to another age.
His wife, an exec at Google, earns significantly more than he does.
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Splurging, schmoozing…and the wages of spin
DOWNING Street’s plans to spend billions of pounds to try to secure Theresa May’s domestic legacy are running into intense Cabinet resistance.
One Cabinet minister complains that Mrs May is “using up all the ammunition in the locker, and to what end?”.
They claim that by committing this money now, Mrs May is “essentially sabotaging a new leader” and that the “Cabinet will block it”.
Mrs May is still the Prime Minister, but given that she is on her way out, it would clearly be more sensible to leave big spending decisions to her successor.
- James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.