For an informed insight into British politics, avoid the mainstream media. You would rest on a waterbed of misconceptions. The final ballot for the Tory leadership candidates closed with this result: Boris, 160; Hunt, 77; Gove, 75. So the top two go into a series of nationwide hustings, with the run-off put to Conservative Party members and a final verdict delivered on July 22. The Boris-Hunt pairing is described as a “duel” by the editor of The Spectator in The Telegraph. It is nothing of the sort. Boris will star in a victory lap, while Hunt, the quality vanilla candidate, will make intelligent but not adversarial noises, aimed at showing distinction but not too much difference. He is guaranteed a Cabinet place and will not want to upset the Prime Minister—not yet, at any rate. The outcome of the members’ vote is not in doubt. They adore Boris. They believe that they have been sold down the river by the Conservative Party in Westminster, a suspicion shared by millions. Their numbers have been swelled by many thousands who joined the party for one reason, that they would have a voice in the election of the new, post-May leader. This is now their chance. Nothing can move them from their conviction that Boris is their man, and they’ll have him. He vows to leave the EU on October 31st, and the rank and file believe that if this does not happen, the party might as well change its address to @usherhouse.
The lost outsider in the debates was Rory Stewart. He was a mine fixed on to the Boris hull. But as a haiku in The Telegraph letters put it: “Rory is not a Tory. End of story.” Stewart, an engaging maverick, enjoyed the aura of freshness, a quality designed to fade. He made it to the third round of voting, and thereafter met Mr. Bennet’s eternally useful line: “You have delighted us long enough.” In these serial ballots you have to understand not the name, but the purpose. Stewart was the anti-Boris candidate, blessed and promoted by those who wish to down him. After his departure he was succeeded by the last and most dangerous anti-Boris candidate.
Michael Gove came close. There is form there: in the post-referendum leadership contest (2016), Gove denounced Boris as unfit, and Boris then withdrew from the race. Gove, who “had intended murder and committed suicide”, had then to withdraw. He thus opened the gate to Theresa May, with consequences suggestive of Sophoclean tragedy. Boris exacted his revenge on Gove in the final ballot; in the dark arts of Tory manoeuvring, several pro-Boris votes were “lent” to Hunt, the safe man. The Westminster Tories, who are largely Remainer and anti-Boris, knew what they were doing in supporting Gove. They failed, just. And we now await the hustings and the victory (the word “coronation” is anathema) of the Leader.
Matters will not be changed by the current sensation, the fracas between Boris and his new partner in their flat. It was what the police term “a domestic”. The walls must be thin, and kindly folk in the adjacent flat heard yells and smashing. Before calling the police, they made a recording which they passed on to The Guardian, which was right neighbourly of them. What we know of the fracas will divide opinions: the lady objected to red wine being spilt on her sofa, while for a man the laptop is sacred. The police came, found nothing untoward, and left with no further action taken. This headline event will do nothing to damage Boris’s prospects, a man well known as a roué. Perhaps we shall see a bachelor in No. 10. To recycle an old line, “How different, how very different, from the home life of the Mays.” Which is an important point. The public is ready for some glamour, some human (and sexual?) interest after three years of the Glums. Liberation time is at hand.
Ralph Berry writes from England.