The fight for the Tory Leadership begins ...
Our Political Editor, Patrick Sullivan thinks Boris has bungled this week, whilst Jeremy Hunt is about receive the Trump Bump (in the polls) and Rory Stewart becomes the candidate to watch. His campaign strategy is so audacious, it just might work.
With the celebration of President Trump’s visit to the UK and the following D-Day commemorations, one could be forgiven for forgetting that the race is now on for who should be the next Conservative leader and ergo, next Prime Minister. The Queen has been doing a stellar job, representing the country, whilst we have no functioning government to speak of and that her loyal subjects could be forgiven for yearning to return to the days of assertive monarchy. However, come summer’s end, a new Tory Party leader must be crowned.
Here is the state of the race as it stands today:
Jeremy Hunt: Pilgrimage to Baseland
Hunt might have campaigned for remain in the 2016 referendum, but he wants Conservatives to know that he is a true born again Brexiteer. This week, he managed to play the President’s visit to the UK like a maestro. Following Boris Johnson’s bewildering snub towards the offer of an audience with the President, Jeremy Hunt (Mr Johnson’s replacement) managed to equal the Tory frontrunner in the presidential endorsement stage. Trump saw fit to not only say that Boris would do a fantastic job, but so would Jeremy. Thus, raising his friend, Jeremy and diminishing the very rude, man who would be king, the bungling Boris Johnson.
When asked about his thoughts about Michael Gove, the president claimed not to know him and then with typical showmanship asked an amused foreign secretary whether he thought his cabinet colleague would do a good job. This was a real slap in the face to Mr Gove, who during his year of exile from Cabinet, was one of the first British journalists to interview Mr Trump for the Times. Mr Hunt had received the presidential endorsement after warmly greeting the first family as they landed. In television interviews following his initial meeting with the US President and set against the backdrop of Air Force One, the foreign secretary diffused the growing diplomatic tension that had been caused by the egomaniacal insults thrown at the President by London’s mayor.
The Foreign Secretary’s conservative credentials were further reinforced when he received the backing of his cabinet colleague the International Trade Secretary and staunch Brexiteer Rt. Hon. Dr Liam Fox MP.
Boris Johnson: Boris Who?
Boris Johnson used to be considered the Heineken politician, able to reach voters other Tories couldn’t reach. With a career full of appearances on late night comedy shows and as a former columnist for GQ magazine, Boris was an early Pop Culture Politician. With his decision to spearhead the Vote Leave campaign, Boris turned into the ultimate Marmite politician overnight: you either love him or you hate him. However, while the hate part might still stand, as time marches on from 2016, love might just be turning to like. There is an old saying in politics: “What have you done for me lately?”.
Allies of David Davis saw Boris’ resignation as piggy backing on their man’s principle and wondered what added value it gave to the Brexit cause. The message had already been sent. It might be said that this truly was Me Too politics in its original sense...
With his snub of President Trump earlier this week, and his recent excitement over the UK visit of Greta Thunberg, one could be forgiven for thinking that Mr Johnson, in a move not unfamiliar in his career, might just be taking his base for granted. And this is surely guiding the strategy of his aforementioned successor as Foreign Secretary.
Beware Boris if you leave your clothes on the beach for too long, you might find someone else has taken them …. and is wearing them better than you ever could.
Rory Stewart: Outsider Plays Outside Game
The Tory party is known for having both a ruthless streak and uncanny instinct for self-preservation. It is on this upon Rory Stewart’s campaign is founded. Stewart has an accomplished record outside of Parliament. In his past life, Stewart didn’t shy away when dealing with Afghan warlords and those formerly of the KGB where necessary. This past has enabled him to portray himself as a measured, reasonable and unflappably soft-spoken politician without falling foul of the Wimp Factor.
His military and diplomatic experience counts far more to potential voters than where he went to school or university. Once you have served your country, esoteric barriers such as class become irrelevant in the public eye. His service additionally shields him from any scurrilous attacks of being unpatriotic or failing to believe in Britain.
Stewart is running a campaign based on becoming the most popular Conservative in the country, and therefore leveraging that popularity to both win the hearts of pragmatic tory voters who still see Jeremy Corbyn as the real threat Beyond the Wall and for those more ideologically inclined. If his strategy takes off and he indeed wins the popularity and the media primary, he is almost daring certain Conservative Party members to vote against him and lose their privileged place in the selection of potential future Prime Ministers by picking a leader who is anathema to the public at large.
Mr Stewart’s soft-spoken straight-talking campaign has more than a few echoes of that pursued by the war hero and late Senator John McCain and his Straight Talk Express campaign in 2000, which almost saw him upset the Republican establishment by giving the prodigal son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a very tough race for the Republican Presidential Nomination.
Although this strategy did not work for McCain, Twitter was not yet a twinkle in anybody’s eye. In the age of social media, maybe Stewart’s Straight Talk Express will ride him into Number 10.
Patrick Sullivan is the Political Editor of The Commentator @PatJSullivan
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