1. HMMM, WAFFLE RUN-OFF?
And then there were two. Boris Johnson faces Jeremy Hunt in the final run-off to become Tory leader and our next prime minister. Three long years after being ‘knifed’ by Michael Gove, revenge was sweet for Johnson as some of his supporters voted tactically (a polite way of putting it) and loaned their votes to Hunt. The Gove camp are convinced their man was a victim of the dark arts, but are sanguine overall about the outcome. Politics is, after all, a rough old game.
With Johnson and Hunt the two names on the ballot paper that will now go before 160,000 party members, the foreign secretary knows he has a huge task to prevent his rival from getting to No.10.
He can’t appear too divisive or snarky, yet he has to land some blows that expose Johnson’s lack of consistency, trustworthiness and competence in office. Only this morning, Boris-backer Johnny Mercer told the Today programme his man “has a watertight commitment to leave the European Union by 31st October, come what may.” But has he?
I’ve written HERE the inside story of how Johnson won the day yesterday - and of how he got serious about the leadership more generally. From swapping an office with Sir Mike Penning to loyal appearances at local Tory dinners, he’s shown even more focus than the days when Lynton Crosby (back on board) kept his eyes on the prize of London’s City Hall.
Johnson’s task over the next four weeks is to rise above it all and you can bet he will try to disarm Hunt by heaping praise on him. Hunt has to somehow not let his opponent waffle, broad-brush and filibuster his way through the 16 (yes, SIXTEEN) live-streamed hustings organised by the party across the country.
There is an ITV News head-to-head next month and possible other media scrutiny, but in many ways Hunt will have more access to Johnson than anyone and could become the ‘journalist’s journalist’ in this race.
Johnson and Hunt were both at Oxford in the mid-1980s and it says everything about modern Britain that such a narrow cohort once again dominates the race for power in 2019. Cameron, Balls, Miliband (D), Gove, Johnson, Hunt, Vaizey, Cooper were all contemporaries (declaration of interest: I was there too, but you’ll be relieved to know I have zero ambition to run the country).
Tellingly, Johnson became president of the Oxford Union debating society, whereas Hunt was president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. Both roles involved ‘hacking’, but one rewarded front-of-house showmanship and the other backroom deal-making. One was about performance, the other was about party politics. Johnson has since then combined both - and it’s going to take something special to knock him off course.
2. FIELD TEST
Mark Field has referred himself to the Cabinet Office for investigation after footage emerged of him grabbing an environmental protestor at last night’s Mansion House dinner in the City. Field (another one of those Oxford mid-1980s students) is not just a foreign office minister but also a prominent backer of the Hunt campaign. His boss may well be asked about the incident today.
It will be for the Cabinet Office to decide whether the ministerial code of conduct has been broke. Labour is already demanding Field’s sacking and there’s a bigger problem of the criminal law Former CPS prosecutor Nazir Afzal has tweeted “it’s an assault and should be charged as such”. That’s the main problem for Field now - will the police get involved?
Greenpeace are certainly describing this as an assault, but Field insists he acted instinctively and his defenders (such as Sir Peter Bottomley on Today) argue he applied no more force than a police officer would have. “Mark Field did what any sensible person would have done to defuse what could have been a tragic situation,” Bottomley said.
ITV News’ Paul Brand, who broke the footage on his Twitter feed, got a statement from Field in which he said that he had worried the protestor might have been armed. But on GMB this morning, Tory chairman Brandon Lewis said: ”When you look at that video it’s very hard not to be astonished by what you’ve seen.”
Sir Brian Leveson retires today as Head of Criminal Justice and has given a withering interview to the BBC about the dangers of government cuts. The most senior criminal judge in England and Wales has expressed “enormous concern” that many crimes are not being prosecuted. He also told the BBC the government would be wrong to abolish prison sentences of less than six months.
Leveson, who rose to prominence for his inquiry into newspaper phone hacking, said: ”The criminal justice system has to be considered by the government and recognised for its enormous value to our community. I don’t think there is sufficient resource to cope with its requirements. Ultimately, if the system doesn’t get appropriate investment the system can collapse.”
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch that Mark Field footage in full.
4. THE IRISH QUESTION
Theresa May is a bystander in Brussels, where the EU27 are not spending much time on Brexit at all and focusing instead on their own choice of president for the Commission and Council. But there was an ominous warning from Irish PM Leo Varadkar yesterday, stressing that the UK had been expected to use wisely the extra time granted until October 31.
Varadkar said there was “enormous hostility” among EU leaders against the idea of any extra time. “There’s very much a strong view across the EU that there shouldn’t be any more extension…While I have endless patience, some of my colleagues have lost patience quite frankly with the UK. Only a general election or a second referendum would be considered, and any bid to reopen May’s deal would fail, Varadkar added.
5. GRANDMA’S HANDS
Back in the real world, last night’s Question Time featured a grandmother’s impassioned speech about inaction on knife crime, as she accused MPs of not “giving a damn about nobody other than yourselves”. The woman said she had 14 grandchildren of her own, but is “so scared” of what might happen to them as violent crime in the UK “spiralled out of control”
She added: “We are fed up of seeing our parents crying. As adults we are not supposed to be burying our children, our children are supposed to be burying us.”
Our latest CommonsPeople podcast is out. Hear us chinwag with UK in a Changing Europe think tank chief Anand Menon on the Tory leadership, what it means for Brexit and Labour’s own internal rows over a second referendum. Oh and the quiz is as usual a joy. Click HERE to listen on Audioboom or below for iTunes.
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