Boris Johnson is said to be the runaway favourite to become Tory party leader and Britain’s next prime minister. Tory MPs, including some ostensible front-runners and even some not known to be his fans, are already positioning themselves to serve in his cabinet.
According to opinion polls, 47 per cent of the public think he can see off Nigel Farage’s Brexit party and defeat Labour, while only 22 per cent think he would lose. Yet nearly six out of ten also say he is not the kind of man from whom they would buy a used car.
So the Tory party is about to elect, by a runaway margin, a leader whom they would trust less than a used-car salesman — but who they think the British people will trust to run the country. Anyone spot something not quite right here?
Because of his reputation as an impolitic outsider and national entertainer, Boris Johnson is said to be the British Donald Tump. But there’s a big difference between the two of them. Trump’s core voters believe that he will do exactly what he says he will do and that the inside of Donald Trump is exactly what you see on the tin.
Even Johnson’s supporters don’t trust him one inch. Anyone totally confident that he will deliver a clean Brexit come what may? Quite.
The BoJo team reportedly think that any attacks by the media will rebound to Johnson’s favour in the same way that the more wicked and unhinged the attacks on Trump, the more his base solidifies behind him — even sending some appalled floating voters to back him, too.
But although the British public is also widely alienated from the British media, any tough questions journalists may put to Boris Johnson are more than likely to be wholly justified. Contrary to what is demonstrably the case in the US, they will not be reflecting a wicked and unhinged political agenda of which the media is its hyper-partisan mouthpiece.
It may well be true that Boris Johnson is the candidate most likely to peel voters away from other parties. But at the same time, he may lose a significant tranche of Conservative voters for whom the man isn’t to be trusted and/or isn’t seen as a proper conservative. He may also lose in addition those who previously never bothered to vote at all but did vote in the referendum for Brexit and did vote in the European parliament elections for the Brexit party, but who faced with yet another Tory leader they don’t trust will revert to never voting for anyone.
In short, Boris Johnson isn’t a politician who breaks the mould because he has no vision other than what is good for Boris Johnson at any one time.
This has implications for the other candidate who will go through to face the Tory party electorate. Tory members are overwhelmingly for Brexit and justifiably believe that, if Mrs May’s successor behaves as Mrs May mark two and does not deliver Brexit on October 31, the party will be finished for the foreseeable future.
This means that, if the contest is between Boris Johnson and a Remainer-turned– reluctant Brexiteer like Jeremy Hunt, who is likely to accept some kind of Mayan compromise with the EU, there will be no real contest and Johnson will be a shoo-in.
A realistic challenge to Johnson, therefore, cannot be made by Remainer Hunt nor by any other not-a-real-Brexiteer-nor-real-conservative. For Johnson to be challenged from where he needs to be challenged, the second candidate must have a rock-solid commitment to a clean Brexit — not just because he thinks, like Johnson, that this is the only way to win a general election but because he actually believes in it.
There’s only one candidate fits that requirement, and it is Dominic Raab.
Just think about it. If Johnson crashes and burns between now and the Tory party election, the party needs to be able to rely on the alternative candidate delivering a clean Brexit. If the alternative is Hunt or any other candidate who would not do so, the Conservative party really will be finished.
And even if Johnson is elected party leader and does deliver a clean Brexit, in the general election that seems ever more unavoidable his role as saviour of the Conservative party looks far from assured.