Yesterday, the Tory Leadership Race saw its first televised debate between the candidates (with the exception of Boris Johnson, who thought that it would be too ‘cacophonous’ and decided not to show up).
Being set at 6.30pm on a Sunday afternoon, just as the nation was settling down with their tea and biscuits, was an interesting move. This writer was actually just-returned from a stag do, making the convoluted vox-pops of some candidates just that little bit more painful.
On the whole, however, it was still a highly-interesting watch, with just the right level of competition and debate vs. maintenance of the “United Tory Party” front.
Whether or not it will do anything against the Johnson Juggernaut, however, we will have to wait and see.
Who Won, Then?
As is to be expected, depending on your views and beliefs on Brexit and beyond you could say that any of the candidates did well – indeed, Twitter was awash with various personalities across the political spectrum rushing to promote the candidate that was “Toughest on Brexit” (Raab) or the most statesmanlike (Hunt).
However, from the crowd in the C4 studio that was comprised of “Floating voters who would at least consider voting Tory,” there was a stand-out choice.
Rory Stewart, the most eloquent glove-puppet in the land, won the crowd over with a number of pragmatic, entertaining and most of all different statements. He railed against the “Machismo” of the leadership race and implored the candidates to think more about the ‘We’ than the ‘Me’ – cue applause. He stood out as the candidate that was never going to promise the impossible, which the crowd seemed to appreciate – if only more politicians didn’t credit the people they want to lead with being thick as a plank, they might actually get more support.
Stewart tore into Dominic Raab‘s policy on no-deal Brexit and proroguing Parliament, as did the other candidates. Raab never fully recovered from being singled out from that early fire from all sides, and surely his dreams of the Premiership are over. The only thing that might help was his unrepentant position on leaving without a deal on October 31st, which will endear him to some on the righter side of the Tory party.
Sajid David and Michael Gove both had slightly underwhelming evenings, which was something of a surprise on both counts. The Saj is genuinely passionate about bringing the country together based on his childhood in a working class home, but he does lack some of the dominant bravado of his rivals. Gove is clearly still rattled by the cocaine revelations from last week, and looked to have the wind taken out of his sails somewhat. He also kept looking down the camera, as though trying to reach the very soul of the viewer, which occasionally made me want to vomit.
Although that might have been the stag do.
Jeremy Hunt was competent, clear and statesmanlike. He also was the first and clearest in the condemnation of BoJo’s no-show, saying that if Boris’ team wouldn’t let him out to debate his colleagues, what would they do about the 27 EU Member States he needs to get a deal with?
Hunt is a continuation vote from Theresa May, which is unlikely to endear him too much to many Conservative Party members. He also has alienated a considerable number of the electorate by promising to reduce the abortion deadline from 24 weeks to 12 – a man ruling on women’s bodies is not exactly a smart move these days, and quite rightly so.
But amongst the MPs in his party he commands respect, and despite Rory Stewart’s excellent showing I would imagine that it will be Hunt vs. Johnson as the final two candidates, once the other votes are held this week.
The Phallic Fraternisation of Hancock/Johnson
Sorry. I needed to make at least one Hancock-Johnson joke.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary who pulled out of the leadership race over the weekend after accepting that he didn’t have the support he needed, has publicly backed Boris in a letter to The Times today. Johnson has also secured the support of Esther McVey, the hard Brexiteer candidate who failed to get the 17 votes required to win the first round of votes.
While this is definitely a strengthening of Boris’ position, it is believed that only half of Hancock’s supporters from the first round of votes are going to follow him on to Boris. Many are uprooting their flags to place them firmly in the Rory Stewart camp instead, given his recent staking of a claim to the centre-ground of the party.
It is worth noting that Tory MPs can and do change their preferred candidate votes between the first and second round of voting – Tory MPs are, lest we forget, exceptionally fickle.
So while my money would be on Hunt, you never know – the momentum is behind Stewart, and while he may not succeed on this attempt, it’s good to know that there’s at least one vaguely sane person in the Tory party waiting in the wings.
Although his idea for an involuntary National Citizens’ Service would probably go down with the electorate like a lift containing the Fijian rugby team after its cable snaps.
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