Boris looks good but isn't there yet!
Think London / CC BY 2.0
He’s still not home and dry yet, as he has some significant hurdles to come, but right now the race looks like a battle for second. In order to win, Boris still needs to:
Maintain his lead in the forthcoming voting rounds (likely).
Limit the damage he takes in the Tory MP hustings next week (tough but doable).
Not be fatally damaged in the TV debates (a very big question).
Not be fatally upended by the Tory members who hate him in the 16 country-wide Tory Party hustings (another very big question).
Win the Tory members’ vote (depends on the above).
Those TV debates could be very bruising. Channel 4 on Sunday, the Beeb next Tuesday, and ITV and Sky thereafter, are all queuing up. And the Beeb are unleashing Fiona Bruce for a Question Time special and Andrew Neil to then do one-on-one interviews for the last two candidates. Yikes! That could go very badly indeed. The measure of how worried his team are about the TV debates can be seen by the fact that so far, as at AM Fri 14 June, Boris’ team has still not confirmed that he will take part in any of the debates, including this Sunday’s on Channel 4. Channel 4 is threatening to empty chair him. Double yikes!
So how has he done so well so far? A few reasons:
Underperformance by others – Even before the contest started, Sajid Javid had massively underperformed, both as Home Secretary and as a leadership candidate. Javid probably had it in his hand some months ago, but his wooden, lacklustre performance has put him way behind. Fifth yesterday in the first round and quite possibly struggling to get through the second round next Tuesday. Likewise, Dom Raab has not broken through. In fact, Boris’ surprisingly well organised team has done a good job of stealing ERG members, natural Raabites, from under his nose.
Team strategy – Boris’ team strategy has been to kidnap their candidate and not allow him out; particularly anywhere near a journalist. That says a lot about their confidence in their candidate, and can work for this short Parliamentary phase of the contest, but it can’t hold for much longer. And that is where their candidate could impale himself.
Rule change – When the 1922 Committee shortened the contest, this played very well for Boris. The less time he is exposed to any scrutiny, the better.
The Brexit court case – While that was hanging around, his support was in line with the other race leaders. Once that was resolved, he picked up a considerable number of new backers, putting him well clear of the rest of the field.
Tories need cheering up – There have been endless waves of bad news endured by Tory MPs and supporters through the long, lingering death of May, the return of Farage, missing the 29 March Brexit deadline, the awfulness of the local election results, followed by the horrible European election results and then the Peterborough by-election result. This has made the Tories a truly glum bunch. Thus is born the logic that what the Tory Party needs is a Cheerleader-in-Chief. It’s pretty tragic that it comes to this but this really is one of the main drivers of Boris’ success to date.
The ‘big Mo’ – Once the Boris bandwagon got rolling, the natural momentum has really helped. His numbers were good initially but as people perceived him to be an unstoppable force, well…it can be career defining not be seen to back the winner.
Serious pressure has begun for the so called ‘vanity candidates’ to drop out. Hancock looks like he’ll drop out today. Stewart will be lobbied hard too. ‘The Saj’ may be tempted. There will be horse trading, for support, votes and jobs, all over the weekend.
The likely Boris cabinet
So if we just assume for a moment that Boris, despite some slings and arrows over the next few weeks, has the Tory leadership in the can, what does a Boris cabinet look like?
First problem: Michael Gove. There is history here. To include or not include, that is the question. Dangerous outside the tent, but dangerous inside it too. Tricky.
Then there’s Phillip Hammond, the gloomy Remainer/undertaker-in-chief. He has to go. Maybe he’ll walk. But one can see him popping up saying ‘I told you so’ ad infinitum for every piece of Brexit bad news for years to come; the new Edward Heath on the back benches.
There are of course those Remainy types who just won’t serve in a Boris cabinet. Rory Stewart has been clear(ish) on that. But what about David Liddington (Dep PM)? Amber Rudd (DWP)? Greg Clark (BIS)? David Gauke (MOJ)? David Maundell (Scotland)?
Chancellor – It seems that current Chief Secretary, Liz Truss, has her eyes fixed on being Chancellor. A key Boris backer, she’s a right winger who teased us with the idea of going for the leadership herself. She would be happy to be called a Thatcherite. Post Brexit, Boris will likely judge that a good thing. But the Treasury is also a big prize that he may need to dangle in front of others to get their backing.
Foreign Secretary – If Hunt continues to do well, comes second say, could he stay on as Foreign Secretary? Why not? He’s had good reviews. And he’ll need a plum job.
Home Secretary – And likewise for Javid? He’s a Tory that reaches parts of society that other Tories – say, white, posh Etonians for example – struggle to connect with. His back story is his ace. An ethnic minority/Muslim Home Secretary overseeing the police plays well.
Brexit Secretary – Does Raab fold his campaign into Boris’ in the next voting round to regain the job he really wants? We know that the EU negotiation team loathes him.
And what about his leadership campaign supporters? Debts must be paid. Grant Shapps and Gavin Williamson, both central to his campaign? The Member for the 1850s, our friend Jacob Rees-Mogg? Current housing/planning minister Kit Malthouse? Previous housing/planning minister Alok Sharma? Star speaker Geoffrey Cox? Rising stars Ben Wallace, Kwarsi Kwarteng, Rishi Sunak, Lucy Frazer? A return to government for arch Brexiteer Owen Paterson, the ERG’s very own Steve Baker and Mark Francois? What about the Brexit old guard: John Redwood and Bernard Jenkin?
Time will tell. He’s got to win first.