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WATCH: PMQs – “You have failed the test of leadership…apologise, now”

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Johnson’s August 2) Finding support among opposition MPs – or at least trying to – before any no confidence vote

It is now overwhelmingly likely that Boris Johnson will be the next Conservative Party leader and become Prime Minister.

He may well face a no confidence vote in September, and the Brexit extension expires at the end of October in any event.

So he and his new team will have to hit the ground running in August. We continue our series on what he should do during that month and late July before the Commons is due to return on September 3.

– – – – – – – – – –

That no confidence vote may come next week, in the wake of the declaration of the leadership election result, though this is on balance unlikely.

But whether it does or not, it is worth beginning to think through the arithmetic, as Dominic Walsh has done in the New Statesman.

It is probable that in the wake of the Brecon by-election, as Walsh says, the Government will have an effective majority of three.

That would be 311 Tory MPs plus ten DUP MPs: so a maximum of 321 of these MPs would face a maximum of 318 other MPs.

We do not know how many Conservative MPs would refuse to support Johnson, or even oppose him, in a no-confidence vote in the Commons.

The new Downing Street team should, however, look closely at the 15 independent MPs: of these, two abstained in January’s no confidence debate: Ivan Lewis and John Woodcock while one, Sylvia Hermon, voted with the Government.

Back in January, there were only eight independents.  One of these, Fiona Onasanya, is no longer an MP. That leaves seven – Frank Field, Kelvin Hopkins, Jared O’Mara and Stephen Lloyd, plus the three named above.

To them, we can add Ian Austin, Nick Boles and Chris Williamson; and then Heidi Allen, Luciana Berger, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Sarah Wollaston – about half of the original Change UK group.

Then there is the other part of that group: what now calls itself the Independent Group for Change (do keep up): that’s Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Joan Ryan and Anna Soubry.

That raises the total of votes in play to 20.  But it is not quite the end of the story.

For there is a small group of Labour MPs who sometimes vote with the Government on Brexit.  Their numbers rises and falls, but as recently as June eight of Jeremy Corbyn’s backbenchers went into the same lobby as the Government to oppose a move headed by their party to take control of Commons business.

They were: Kevin Barron, Ronnie Campbell, Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint, Stephen Hepburn, Kate Hoey, John Mann, Graham Stringer.  Which brings us to 28.

Now every single one of these MPs might well vote against a Johnson Government in the event of a no confidence vote.

The new Prime Minister himself might not be the best person to deal directly with any of them.

But his Downing Street Team, or those Conservative MPs in place, might want to talk in particular to Austin and Hoey, and just conceivably Barron who, like Hoey, is retiring.

And that’s before taking into account any other Opposition MP who could sit on their hands rather than vote in such a way as to make an imminent Corbyn Government likely.

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Hustings in Maidstone. Johnson offers glutinous harmony while Hunt declares himself the better Jeremy

The tour is coming to an end. The two stars, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, will soon have other engagements, depending on the verdict the audience reaches on this one.

Last night they performed before a thousand Conservatives at the Kent Showground, outside Maidstone, in a huge green shed next to the Cattle Marquee.

Hunt, who went second, adopted the manner of a pained but amiable grown up who feels obliged to warn that the party is in danger of getting out of hand.

He has nothing against Conservatives having fun: “Optimism is a great thing and I love Boris for his optimism, but it’s got to be optimism grounded in reality.”

According to Hunt, there is “a big risk if we approach Brexit in a headlong way” of ending up with a general election and Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten.

But all is not lost: “We can choose our own Jeremy!”

As he said this, Helen Whately, MP since 2015 for Faversham and Mid Kent, gave a great whoop from just behind the press seats.

The idea of using Jeremy to beat Jeremy did not, however, rouse the audience as a whole to more than polite applause. Many of them were more stirred by the idea of using Johnson to get Brexit done by 31st October.

That was his opening pledge, and it produced a favourable reaction. Soon he was describing how he would do it. He would look after the EU nationals who are living here (a respectable level of applause, for Conservatives are by no means as illiberal as they are painted).

And he would “suspend” the £39 billion we contribute to the EU “in a state of creative ambiguity until such time as we get what we want.”

Not everyone would feel comfortable commending “creative ambiguity” as a key element in their negotiating position. Here, on the other hand, is Jonathan Powell, describing its role in the Northern Ireland peace process:

“The part played by ambiguity in a negotiation is complicated and needs careful handling. In the initial stages, ambiguity is often an essential tool to bridge the gap between irreconcilable positions. The only way we could get over decommissioning at the time of the Good Friday Agreement was to make its terms ambiguous so that each side was able to interpret the Agreement as endorsing their position…constructive ambiguity took the strain.”

That sort of careful justification might be given by Hunt. In Johnson’s hands, creative ambiguity means keeping the other side guessing.

He passed swiftly on to lighter matters, including the ingredients, such as whey, required “to make the Mars Bars in Slough on which our children depend.”

He charged onwards: “Where there’s a will there’s a whey, as I never tire of saying.” This line he has used on an unknown number of previous occasions, but it still produced a decent laugh.

Hunt’s line, that he is an entrepreneur, though he himself asks in an ironic tone whether he has ever told us this before, is somehow less enjoyable.

Hannah Vaughan Jones, the journalist who interviewed each candidate in turn, asked Johnson how he would describe his temperament.

He replied: “I would say eirenic.” A moment’s silence, for many people could not remember what this meant.

Johnson explained that he is “approaching a state of almost glutinous harmony with my fellow Conservatives”.

It is likely that in the ever widening field of Johnson studies, entire books, or PhD theses, or at least entire paragraphs, will one day be devoted to his use of the term “almost glutinous harmony”.

In October 2009, he spoke on Newsnight of the “almost glutinous harmony” between himself and David Cameron at Oxford.

The joke of this is that he and Cameron were not close, yet when it suited them could make a show of closeness. So Johnson is exaggerating in order to show, in a comic way, how bogus the claim is.

And yet it is not totally bogus. There is some sort of affinity between himself and Cameron, and indeed between himself and his fellow Conservatives. The subject eludes definition. We are back to creative ambiguity.

Someone in the audience asked a good question: “How are you going to sort out Tory Remainers who would rather bring down the Government than let us leave with No Deal?”

Johnson replied: “It’s not Remain and Leave any more.”

He added: “I think there’s a real spirit of compromise now in our party.”

Is this true? Nobody knows for sure, or at least nobody can prove the question one way or the other.

Conservatives seemed to be getting on in a perfectly civilised way with each other at the hustings. A group of Johnson supporters lined up to welcome their man, followed by a smaller group of Hunt supporters to welcome their man.

Various drivers waited outside the venue for the Conservatives they had brought to the event. Here was a husband waiting for his wife, and, rather movingly, two parents, neither of them a Conservative voter, waiting for their son, who at the age of 16 has joined the party in order to vote in this leadership election.

These thousand Conservatives did not correspond to the ignorant caricatures sometimes offered in the press of the party’s membership. They took the decision seriously, and were well aware of wider public opinion.

So when Johnson was asked whether as Prime Minister he would call a free vote in Parliament on hunting with dogs, and he replied that he did not think “in all candour” that this is the moment to put hunting “at the top of our standard”, he received solid applause.

Hunt tried in vain to score off his opponent. The Foreign Secretary was amiable, professional and astute, but could not connect with the audience in the way that Johnson did.

Johnson is relaxing into this contest. Because he feels himself to have an unassailable lead, he can dare to play his natural game, mixing serious observations with frivolous ones, in a manner infuriating to some people but attractive to a larger number.

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Lord Ashcroft: My choice for the next Prime Minister

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Like most Conservatives, I wanted Brexit wrapped up and out of the way under Theresa May’s stewardship, allowing a new leader to begin a new chapter, reinvigorate the Party and – at long last – change the subject.

So much for that. Far from drawing a line under the unhappy recent history of British politics, the new Prime Minister will face exactly the same problem as his predecessor. He will also face the same parliamentary maths and apparently, despite the personnel changes in Brussels, the same stance from the EU. The first question on the minds of many Conservative Party members as they ponder over their ballot papers, then, will be who is finally going to get Brexit signed, sealed and delivered.

For Boris backers, the answer is clear: we must leave on 31st October, come what may, do or die. Only by convincing the EU that we are serious about this will they move – and if they don’t, we’ll be out. There is no other way to escape the “hamster wheel of doom”. Hold your horses (or your hamsters), say the Boris-sceptics: now is a time for cool heads and calm negotiation, not heroic ultimatums. Plan for no deal, but talk.

The problem with choosing between these two approaches is that there are so many unknowns in both scenarios. We don’t know how, when it comes to it, the EU will respond to new Prime Ministerial overtures, or what they would do if they believed a No Deal Brexit really was imminent. We don’t know how any resulting deal would differ from Theresa May’s thrice-rejected agreement, or whether it would fare any better in the Commons. We don’t know what would happen if it were defeated, and it is not yet clear exactly how No Deal would come to pass with Parliament determined to prevent it.

It’s easy to see how another clash between Government and Parliament – whether over another unpassable deal, or an administration determined to leave without one – could bring about an early general election. Neither candidate wants one, but even if they get their wish, the winner will have to face the electorate eventually. After all, by Christmas we will be halfway through the five-year term.

The next question for the Tory selectorate, then, is who is best placed to lead them to victory when the time comes. There is no clear answer here either, as my research earlier in the week showed. Boris has the greater appeal to those tempted by the Brexit Party – indeed, when we asked people how likely they were to vote for each party under each of the two potential new Prime Ministers, Nigel Farage’s latest outfit was in fourth place under Boris Johnson, but a close second under Jeremy Hunt. 2017 Tories and Labour Leave voters were also more drawn to the idea of a Boris-led Conservative Party. But voters as a whole preferred Jeremy Hunt, not least because Remainers, including Conservative Remainers, were very much more open to the idea of supporting him than his opponent.

As things stand, it looks unlikely, to say the least, that at the next election the two biggest parties will account for 82 per cent of the vote, as they did two years ago. The winner, then, will be the party that most successfully keeps its 2017 coalition from unravelling. This means Conservatives can’t afford to lose people at either end. In practical terms, this boils down to the following question: which is greater – the number of Remain-voting potential supporters the Tories would lose (or fail to win back) under Boris, or the number of Brexit Party temptees who would abandon the Tories (or fail to return) under Jeremy Hunt? Which candidate would be more likely to win back Canterbury and Twickenham while holding onto Mansfield and Stoke? There is no clear answer, and the doubt is doubled when you ask whether such an election would be happening when we are in or out of the EU, and what the early consequences have been – which takes us back to the Brexit uncertainties I’ve already mentioned.

The conclusion I have come to is that for all these reasons, trying to choose between the two candidates on the basis of who would get the best Brexit and who would be most likely to win a subsequent (or preceding) general election amounts to making a series of uncertain tactical assumptions, with a good deal of crystal-ball gazing to fill in the gaps. And that is no way to choose a leader.

So we should start at the other end. The candidate to choose is the one who would, day by day, do the best job of being Prime Minister. That person, it follows, would be more likely to achieve the best things for the UK – whether on Brexit or anything else – and would accordingly have the stronger appeal to the electorate in an eventual election. Both candidates have a strong case to make: both are proper Conservatives, both are engaging, both are committed to honouring the referendum result, and both have ideas to take the country forward. So the decision about who would be the better Prime Minister comes down to judgment and instinct as much as anything else.

I can certainly see Boris in the job, and I can see him cheering us all up, at least for a time. I don’t fear a catastrophe should he carry the day. But I’ve watched Jeremy for a long time, with growing respect. I’ve been impressed with the way he has handled tricky jobs in government, from the Olympics to the doctors’ strike, with calm assurance and attention to detail. His performance as Foreign Secretary leads me to think the public’s view that he would be the more effective leader on the world stage is well founded. His character and integrity are evident. In a crisis, I would want him in charge. And if I were employing one of them to run a big, complicated project – which is what we are doing – I would choose him.

No disrespect to Boris – but it’s a binary choice, and that’s mine.

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Clark Vasey: Only Johnson can deliver Blue Collar Conservatism

Clark Vasey is the founder of Blue Collar Conservatism and was the Conservative Candidate for Workington in 2017

Since we first set up Blue Collar Conservatism in 2012, I have worked with Esther McVey to encourage the Conservatives to focus on the working class voters who have been taken for granted by Labour. They have been consistently let down by that party, and have been turning to the Conservatives in greater numbers than any other group. With the election of Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of posh metropolitan socialism followed by the Leave victory in the EU referendum, we were well placed to achieve an historic realignment.  But in 2017 with a Brexit message diluted by unpopular policies we lost ground.

With our failure to deliver Brexit, what was once an opportunity now poses an existential threat to the party. Rather than winning over working class voters we now risk losing them hand over fist to the Brexit Party, as both the European elections and the Peterborough by-election demonstrate.

If we are still in the EU come 1 November, we risk irreparably breaching trust with these voters and offering Corbyn a route to power. Yet if we can deliver a proper Brexit at the end of October, thereby depriving Nigel Farage of his narrative of betrayal, then the potential of connecting with these voters remains. Corbyn does not speak for working- class people and, with Tom Watson determined to turn Labour into a party for metropolitan remainers, Labour are dropping any pretence of speaking for its traditional communities.

This is why Esther relaunched Blue Collar Conservatism earlier this year. Once we have delivered Brexit, we must build an agenda for working people by focusing on the issues which matter most to them. Being on the side of the people who need us most is not only the right thing to do, but is the only way in which we can win a majority. And it is only with that majority that we can keep out the most destructive socialist government in our history, and transform our country with the opportunities which will follow leaving the EU.

I was proud to support Esther in a campaign which put Blue Collar Conservatism on the agenda of this leadership contest. When the dust has settled, people will look back and see that she presented the most coherent and costed campaign in this contest.

This was possible because we applied three simple principles of Blue Collar Conservatism – 1) that resources should be focused on things which really matter to people, 2) that we must always ensure people are able to keep more of their own money and 3) that we must use Conservative policies to grow the economy to enable us to do 1 and 2.

You do not win working class voters by dipping into Ed Miliband’s bag of tricks. We need a Conservative agenda which delivers the things which really matter, not watered-down Labour policies.

This is what Esther did with her calls for more spending on police and schools funded by taking the DfID budget back to 2010 levels. This why Esther talked about public sector pay and fantastic initiatives such as a new Police Covenant. This was about genuinely shifting the dial on these issues which cause us huge pain in constituencies across the country. It was also about challenging orthodoxies within the party such as the 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid, which would have an important symbolic effect of showing we are listening, and are not just focused on Westminster priorities.

Over the coming weeks and months Blue Collar Conservatism will continue to make the case that the party must win over the support of working people, particularly in the Midlands and the North. Esther’s Blue Collar Conversations pub tour is making its way around the country talking to people who would not normally engage with Conservatives. This is helping us build up a body of ideas which our voters and potential voters actually want. But the most important challenge for us now is that the new leader recognises the importance of this agenda for our party and our country. This is why it was so welcome that Boris Johnson endorsed Esther’s Blue Collar agenda.

When it comes to shaping a popular agenda incorporating Blue Collar Conservatism there is only one remaining candidate in the contest, and that is Johnson. This is not about an individual’s background, but their ability to connect with people and present radical Conservative policies which will make a positive difference to them.

However, first we must deliver Brexit. If we are not out of the EU by 31 October we will never be given a hearing on what comes after, no matter how positive. Johnson is the only candidate who can restore trust on Brexit and deliver Blue Collar policies which will secure a Conservative majority and keep Corbyn out of Downing Street.

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Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: May denounces Corbyn as a Groucho Marxist

Theresa May flung Marx at Jeremy Corbyn: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

That comes, she reminded the House, not from Karl but from Groucho, and applies all too well to this malleable Leader of the Opposition, now reduced to following his Remainer colleagues.

Corbyn cannot speak with authority, and usually evades, as too difficult, whatever the issue of the hour may be. Today he took refuge in a worthy sequence of questions about legal aid.

Once we get a new Prime Minister, there will surely have to be a new Leader of the Opposition, capable of holding the Government to account, and plausible as an alternative PM.

The age of May and Corbyn will become, perhaps, a shadowy period, over which historians will pass in a sentence or two.

The sense of things coming to an end was intensified by the Prime Minister’s expression of “great regret” at the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch from the post of Ambassador in Washington.

David Lidington, sitting on one side of May, nodded with unbounded and repeated emphasis as she said this.

Philip Hammond, sitting on the other side of her, nodded ever so slightly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not a demonstrative man, and can seldom be found lamenting others’ misfortunes.

May accused Corbyn of doing “his best to ignore the anti-semitism in his party”, and pointed out that Lord Triesman and two other Labour peers have just resigned from the party because of this.

She remarked that Labour’s cry used to be “education, education, education”, but now “it’s just tax, tax, tax, injustice, injustice”.

Corbyn had already said he is “totally committed to eliminating racism in any form”. But if this is so, why have the three peers gone?

PMQs went on for too long. The Speaker has got into the habit of allowing as much time as backbenchers need to get a fair crack of the whip.

The same effect could be achieved if everyone asked shorter questions. The House has become self-indulgent. MPs no longer concentrate on expressing themselves with the greatest possible concision and force.

They ask long-winded questions, which give the Prime Minister longer to think, and more chance to evade the heart of the matter by rambling on about inessentials.

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Labour’s latest Brexit policy pleases Shadow Cabinet Remainers, but will it actually win over voters?

A few thoughts on Labour’s latest new Brexit policy:

What actually is it? Confusingly, there are two distinct policies doing the rounds. Yesterday the major Labour-supporting union bosses agreed – despite Len McCluskey’s reluctance – to a position that backs a second referendum in any Brexit circumstance: No Deal, a Conservative-negotiated deal, or a Labour-negotiated deal. In any referendum they want Remain to be an option, and expect Labour to definitely back Remain over No Deal or a Conservative deal, and possibly even against a deal negotiated by Labour themselves. That’s the unions’ position, but Labour’s actual new policy is somewhat different. Jeremy Corbyn has essentially agreed the first two conditions: a referendum on either No Deal or a “Tory Brexit” with Labour backing Remain. But he now won’t say what would happen if Labour came to power, or what would be promised in a new Labour manifesto.

What does it mean? Well, it means Labour Remainers are now trumpeting that Labour is “a Remain party”, although the Liberal Democrats and Change UK/TIG/Random But Changeable Name claim that a vote for Labour would still allow Brexit to happen. In practice, a party that promised the country it would honour and implement the outcome of the EU referendum is now committed in most circumstances to trying to ignore and defy that outcome. In the other circumstance – Labour gaining power – they simply won’t tell anybody their position, which means it becomes a question of judgement as to what’s going on behind closed doors at Labour HQ, and whether you can or can’t trust Corbyn and his Shadow Cabinet to fulfil conflicting promises. A bit of Kremlinology is therefore required.

Why is it changing now? There’s lots of guff around about supposedly high-minded reasons for the change-up. But it’s simple: Labour (like this site) believes there is an election coming. That doesn’t mean this new policy is being adopted because they have reason to believe it’s a vote-winner – rather, it’s happening now because the Opposition’s Remainers are desperate to try to force their preferred outcome into the Labour manifesto before the country goes to the polls. After years of quite artful can-kicking from the Leader’s office, they were increasingly worried that postponing the issue to Labour conference would be too late, and that an election might arrive in the meantime, to be fought on Corbyn’s preferred vague terms.

What does that say about Labour’s internal politics? For years, Corbyn and his close team of advisers have kept a lid firmly on the fundamental discomfort that many in his Parliamentary Party and wider membership have with the very idea of keeping their promise to fulfil Brexit. Even when outnumbered in the PLP or at Shadow Cabinet, he has been able to call on his personal authority from his dedicated grassroots followers to essentially steamroll his colleagues on the question. But the Leader’s office is now embattled on multiple fronts: bogged down in procedural warfare with current and former Party staff, failing still to get on top of the antisemitism scandal, and slowly but surely losing its authority.

There are open calls for advisers to be fired – as close to outright rebellion as many will go in any personality cult – and allegations (true or false) about Corbyn’s health which are in turn alleged to have come from people close to senior Shadow Ministers. If something was going to give, it was likely to be on Brexit, the issue on which the leader differs most from his grassroots following. It’s ironic, of course, that the only principle which he is willing to compromise is also the only one on which he was even vaguely correct, but that’s what’s happened. The fact Remain voices are gaining ground and courage suggests that they hope to build on this victory to eventually force even a Labour government to either abandon Brexit entirely or to give the Party free rein to back Remain against a Labour-negotiated Brexit deal.

How will it be received on the doorstep? Some of Labour’s Remainers are absolutely convinced that becoming a Remain party will be wildly popular. Most would privately admit, however, that just because it’s what they want doesn’t make it an easy sell or a guaranteed hit. There are definitely some people among whom it will be popular, not least in the Party’s membership, who have been stung by criticism from the Lib Dems and elsewhere that a vote for Corbyn will facilitate Brexit.

But even if Remain-supporting voters welcome the move, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will actually switch to vote Labour. With the Lib Dems successfully positioning themselves in the EU election as the main pro-EU party, will pro-EU voters ditch them in favour of a Labour Party that has been dragged only reluctantly to a mushier, more confused version of the position? Here, Corbyn’s continued ambiguity about what he would do in power could really hurt them – opposing a “Tory Brexit” but leaving the door open to carry out a “Labour Brexit”, even hypothetically, might not be sufficient to reassure hardliners. Meanwhile, it’s obviously an opportunity for pro-Leave opponents – be it the Brexit Party or the Conservative Party under a new leader – to make inroads into the Labour vote. The videos and leaflets addressed to former Labour supporters who voted Leave, or who simply believe in fulfilling a democratic commitment, are being produced right now.

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WATCH: McDonnell insists reports of a split with Corbyn are “rubbish”

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Iain Dale: The hustings. From Manchester to Belfast – and on to Nottingham.

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

‘Populist’ has replaced the phrase ‘Alt right’ as the lefty choice of word to insult politicians on the Right. Boris Johnson is often now described as a ‘populist’ politician. It’s meant to put him in the same class as Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orban and, of course, Donald Trump.

He is, of course, nothing like them if you actually look at what he believes. As I put it to him at one of the hustings, he’s actually very much on the liberal side of conservative thinking.

This is the man who once flirted with an amnesty for illegal immigrants. This is the man who has an exemplary record of supporting the adoption of pro-gay rights legislation. On that point, it’s always good to remind Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters that Johnson voted to repeal Section 28 in 2002. Corbyn did not.

Brexit blinkers those who just view Johnson through the ‘populist’ prism. They deliberately ignore the rest of his beliefs in a vain attempt to smear him as some sort of far-right ideologue. My suspicion is that if he goes on to win the leadership, we’ll see a government that is very far from what the Guardian and its ilk likes to imagine.

– – – – – – – – – –

Talking of the hustings, I’ve now compered five of them, with number six coming up tomorrow morning in Nottingham.

One of the challenges is to keep things fresh and to introduce new areas of questioning on each occasion. In Manchester on Saturday, I decided to devote my ten minutes with each candidate to Northern Powerhouse issues. Rather hilariously, just before we went on stage I got a text from Greater Manchester’s Mayor, Andy Burnham, with a couple of questions for the candidates – well, five actually.

I rather theatrically waved my phone at the 800 strong audience and asked them if I should ask Johnson a question from Mayor Burnham. “YEEEES”, they cried. So I did. The audience then clapped the question, and he then paid tribute to Burnham and agreed with the thrust of the question. Strange times.

– – – – – – – – – –

At the end of interviews with the candidates, I have taken to asking them a light-hearted question. The answers  often give people a very different insight into the candidates’ characters, and also demonstrate an ability (or lack thereof) to think quickly on their feet.

In Manchester, I had forgotten to prepare such a question, so I just asked something very simple: which place in the North West that they had visited had left the most memorable impression. OK – not very original and not exactly the most challenging question I have ever asked.

Johnson chose the Midland Hotel in Manchester…and I could almost sense the collective mind of the audience start to boggle. He then explained that, in 1906, Winston Churchill had held a very important meeting there, the details of which now escape me.

It then came to Jeremy Hunt’s turn. I’m pretty sure he hadn’t heard Johnson’s answer, but he too gave the Midland Hotel as his choice. He looked rather perplexed when the audience collapsed into fits of laughter. He then went on to explain that it was where Mr Rolls met Mr Royce. Who knew?

– – – – – – – –

On Tuesday morning, I got up at 5.30am to fly to Belfast from Heathrow. Apparently, I wasn’t deserving of a place on the private jet which flew the candidates and their entourages there!

Unusually for me, all the travel plans went smoothly, and I arrived at Belfast City Airport on time. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Northern Ireland politics, so I spent some time getting a briefing from someone who does. Always a good idea when you’re keen to avoid causing some sort of diplomatic incident.

I arrived at the venue quite early, and spent some time talking to audience members as they started trickling into the hall. Hunt varied his standard hustings speech rather more than Johnson did – and we were spared another rendition of the McHuntyface joke.

Praise be. I know it’s difficult when there are 16 different hustings to do a different speech at each, but both candidates would be well advised to shake it up for the final eight. If they don’t the media will lose interest.

I had been told by various people in advance of the Belfast hustings that Northern Ireland Conservatives were just like English Tories but about 20 years behind in terms of their social views. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the questions in Belfast were of a better quality and incisiveness than at any of the other hustings so far. And they were generally quite progressive, and not obsessed with issues which only related to Northern Ireland. It was also good to see so many under-30s in the audience.

– – – – – – – – – –

The styles of the two candidates are clearly very different. Hunt is never going to match Johnson for rhetorical flourish, but his great asset is his unflappability in his response to hostile questioning. And there’s been some pretty tough questions from each of the audiences.

He sits up, back ramrod straight, then leans into the audience and tries to reassure them. It’s part of the reason David Cameron appointed him Health Secretary. He has a nice, reassuring bedside manner and the audiences have liked it.

– – – – – – – – – –

Let me finish by paying tribute to a 16-year-old British Asian lad called Ajay who sent in a question to the Manchester hustings, and which I chose as one of those to ask Johnson.

His question was a challenging one, both to ask and for Johnson to answer. When I called Ajay to ask his question, he stumbled with his words a little. I willed him on.

He explained that he suffered from clinical depression and mental health issues and wanted to know what a Boris Johnson led government would do to help people like him. He used the phrase: “If you are elected…”. Some wag in the audience shouted out: “You mean when…”

That could have easily put Ajay off his stride, but it didn’t – and he completed his question. I really hoped the audience would applaud him, as it must have taken balls of steel to ask that question, especially given his age. The crowd didn’t let me down, and nor did Johnson, who gave a very detailed answer on what he would do to expand mental health services.

– – – – – – – – – –

You’ll have noticed that I’ve been scrupulously balanced in this column, and said positive things about both candidates. I’ll save any negative things for the memoirs! Actually, truth be told, that would be a short paragraph. I’ve actually been impressed by how both of them have done so far. I think the whole process has been handled well by both of them.

In addition, let me conclude (again!) by paying tribute to Brandon Lewis and the CCHQ team who have organised these hustings at very short notice. He leads a highly professional team and I can’t speak highly enough of everyone involved. A job well done, but it’s not finished yet.

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From Reggie to Rory Sahib: Greetings on your Grand Tour. Here, Boris and J.Hunt esquire are showering punters with taxpayers’ cash

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2017-09-09-at-11.14.55 From Reggie to Rory Sahib: Greetings on your Grand Tour. Here, Boris and J.Hunt esquire are showering punters with taxpayers’ cash Sir Nicholas Soames MP Rory Stewart MP Priti Patel MP Penny Mordaunt MP Mark Francois MP Light relief Jeremy Hunt MP Jeremy Corbyn MP Iain Duncan Smith MP Highlights David Lidington MP Conservatives Conservative leadership election 2019 Columnists Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Amber Rudd MP From: Reggie@toptory.lidl.com

To: Rory.Stewart@Maiwand.com

Subject: Brexit Bidding Competition

Rory Sahib!

I have enjoyed reading your Twitter account and the photos taken on your Grand Tour of the Gulf States. I hope you are trying to hose down our American cousins who want to biff the Ayatollah and his Imans.

How time flies when we are enjoying the Brexit train crash. You laid down a good marker for the next leadership contest – could be before the festive season.

All is quiet on my home front as Lady Mary has been in France as the Patroness of the Lionesses football team. You probably saw her in twinset and pearls standing behind assorted muscular ladies. Can’t say I approve as women are far more lethal on the pitch than men. I still have a cracked shin bone from playing against Cheltenham Gals College in the 1950s.

Last week, Soames and I attended the Armed Forces Day Parade in Winchester in blistering heat. “Bubbles” Smythe gave us a lift in his roller, and parked outside the Cathedral in a spot reserved for the Dean. Then a liquid lunch at one of the better hotels. We raised our goblets to you in an alcohol-free zone.

Now what’s been happening here in the leadership contest? As far as I can tell Boris and J Hunt Esquire are trying to outbid each other in the Brexit war, and showering taxpayers’ money on every interest group. There are all these ghastly photos of them hugging passers by and avoiding difficult questions.

Boris seems to lurch from one disaster to the next. To divert the attention of reptiles he says he relaxes by painting wine boxes to look like buses! Sounds a bit like Comrade Corbyn photographing drainage covers. You wouldn’t have had all this rollicking nonsense from Harold M or Mrs T.

To steady the nerves of his supporters, he has appointed IDS as his campaign manager. As Soames opined, based on his sterling successes as our leader 20 years ago and reforming the welfare morass. I put it about that Rees-Mogg and S Baker were drawing up lists of potential ministers – Francois to defence and Patel to the FCO. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the weaker brethren.

Then we have had that hoary old suggestion to cut the Cabinet by half – international development to the FCO and Welfare, for God’s sake, to the Treasury. Another of the Trussette’s brilliant schemes, but unfolding fast, as the colleagues have worked out there will be fewer ministers.

Over a convivial lunch at “The Prisoner’s Friend” pub off Whitehall, Brandon Lewis, Party Chairman and Keeper of the Files, told Soames and Yours Truly that CCHQ had emails prepared to mobilise for an autumn election. Reminded me of those warning orders prepared by the British Army of the Rhine for a Bolshevik attack. Sad to say a similar end game!

Then we hear that Boris, as part of this Churchill nostalgia, wants to create a War Cabinet for Brexit. Jolly old D Lidington tells me they propose to meet in the Old Cabinet War Rooms to soak up the atmosphere and fag ash. The Imperial War Museum is promised £20 million to cover the lost tourist fees.

Meanwhile, there has been consternation here in the Palace of Varieties at proposals to put panic buttons and CCTV cameras in MPs and Peers Offices. Some blather about preventing inappropriate behaviour. As Soames pointed out, more likely catching him and me watching Wimbledon and sinking a glass of bubbly after lunch.

Well, old lad, only three more weeks of these awful hustings I am spending this weekend in Northumberland with my grandchildren and the Jacks. Sort of loco parentis although apart from using me as a human version of a cash register in the wall, I see very little of the offspring. Plenty of cricket and Wimbledon to see on the telly.

Thank you for your invitation, Soames and I would be delighted to sup with you at the Silk Road Club next week – why not invite those jolly ladies Amber R and Penny M?

Yours at the going down of the sun,


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