Boris Johnson is losing the support of his party. There are enough straws in the wind now to indicate his perceived usefulness is coming to an end, and his popularity is rapidly diminishing in the country. If there’s anything more likely to confirm MPs worries it’s the polling, and the most recent show him behind Keir Starmer as best Prime Minister and his support fracturing in the Red Wall. Many have had concerns about Boris all along, and many more since the early summer, but a lot has changed in the last 2 months.
So, what’s keeping him there?
Well, Boris was selected because of his perceived electability and soundness on Brexit – the ideal combination for many Tory MPs. His pledge to ‘Get Brexit Done’ resonated with the electorate and, faced with the alternative of Jeremy Corbyn, they resigned themselves to the lesser of two evils. In the absence of a final deal being reached that mission is incomplete – and Boris is needed to legitimate it for the ERG. Also, the current national crisis isn’t anything anyone much fancies being lumbered with as PM – as it would dominate their every waking day – but by Spring next year, and assuming a vaccine of sufficient efficacy arrives, all the props keeping him in office will have gone.
We then need to think what comes next, because it could all change very quickly. What has struck me is the polling that shows how exhausted Britons have become with the divisions in the UK. The USA is slightly different, as it’s clearly more divided, but we’ve seen something similar amongst Biden switchers where people said prior to the election that they were getting tired of the reality TV show of Trump. Politics has seeped into their everyday lives, and they want it to go away.
There’s a belief amongst many punters at the moment that – if not Sunak, who I think is being viewed with rose-tinted spectacles – the next Tory leader must be someone who can continue to carry the flame of Brexit, with a hard line on everything else. This leads them to Gove, Raab or Patel.
I disagree, and believe this thinking is now out-of-date. Both the Labour membership and Democrats selected a leader who is perceived to be moderate and credible. The opponent you’re up against is crucial and the Tories need to be looking ahead to GE2024 and who could save them their seats, when they won’t be up against Corbyn and won’t have Brexit as their ace card either. The electorate will be looking for something different, and the Tories need to think carefully about this.
Covid-19 has put a high-price on competence – and the election results in New Zealand and the USA should be seen as a warning. With Brexit “done” the electorate will be looking for a moderate and pragmatic leader who can crawl us out of the mess – preferably, in one piece. The next leader of the Conservative Party will need to have the experience and capability to do this, and be sufficiently untarnished by the Brexit wars to unite the Tory party for its battles of the future, and not repel Scotland outright. In particular, they need to think about how they can play their traditional “safe pair of hands” card against Starmer in GE2024 on what will almost certainly be a rocky economic foundation, where Labour might be tempted to turn too far Left economically for many tastes. If you want to be unkind it may be that only the John Major can beat the Neil Kinnock.
The candidate I keep coming back to is Jeremy Hunt. Hunt was never a very prominent supporter of Remain. Indeed, originally he was rumoured to favour Brexit. He wasn’t obstructive during the Brexit negotiations. He has nearly a decade of cabinet-level experience as Culture Secretary, Health Secretary and Foreign Secretary, where he was considerably hawkish on China, Russia and Iran.
His speech of two years ago in which he said Britain should seek to build an “invisible chain” linking together the world’s democracies now looks prophetic – he has a global outlook and a desire to project and defend quintessentially British values worldwide. His reputation for being well-organised, his ability to deal with stress, and his skills as a speaker – who is also a natural diplomat, able to manage each encounter with expressions of respect and understanding, whilst being no shrinking violet when he has to be – contrasts well with both of his immediate predecessors.
He’s also got forward-thinking views on mental health, which is bound to be a casualty of this current crisis. Yes, he’s dropped a couple of gaffes, is light on charisma and has a funny habit of not moving his eyes very much in interviews, but so does Starmer and, anyway, who’s perfect?
I believe all the other leading Tory candidates are either tainted, or flawed, or insufficiently experienced, which leads me to think Hunt is the outstanding one for the politics of the early 2020s. And he has not been shy of reminding people he exists on Twitter, and is ready and waiting to serve.
I’d recommend the 20/1 with PaddyPower or Bet365 that the next PM is Jeremy Hunt.
These odds are too long and I’d make him a 5/1 shot, not a 5% shot. I’m on.
Casino Royale is a longstanding PBer