1. BREAKING BOZ
Cometh the day, cometh the plan? After months of avoiding saying much beyond his £5,000-a-pop Telegraph columns, Boris Johnson breaks cover today with his formal launch to lead the Tory party. Given that he is now the frontrunner to become our next prime minister, will he set out a detailed Brexit, and post-Brexit blueprint for Britain? Don’t hold your breath.
Allies say today’s event will not be a focused on policy and I suspect we will get more broad brush similar to the headline-grabbing soundbite we were given overnight: “delay means defeat - kick the can, and we kick the bucket”. To be fair, Johnson at least has a clear answer on the most pressing issue of whether he would pull the UK out of the EU on October 31 without a deal - yes he would.
He still faces the pesky problem of Parliament blocking no-deal (see below), and whether he would then trigger a general election. Delay may mean defeat, but does non-delivery mean defeat too? As I’ve been saying lately, there are some Boris allies who actually think he should seize the day and go for a snap October election as a way out of the deadlock. They will be heartened by today’s Telegraph/ComRes poll suggesting he could get a majority of 140 seats over Corbyn (although plenty of critics say extrapolating an electoral calculus is ‘bonkers’).
Largely because they are desperate for a leader who is a proven campaigner (and who is at least popular with some of the public, rather than none of them), lots of Tory MPs are swallowing their doubts and the Boris bandwagon is getting more crowded by the day. Today, solicitor general Lucy Frazer jumps aboard (via a piece in the Times) and Brexit secretary Steve Barclay endorses him via the Daily Mail. Liz Truss (yes that first female Chancellor job looms) had the grim task of defending Boris on the Today programme. “I do not think the British public is interested in Boris’ personal life,” she said. And she may well be right. The bigger question is do they trust him?
What really worries unconvinced Tory MPs are Boris’s judgement, his work rate and his grasp of the detail - all of which are what makes or breaks prime ministers. And while Johnson thinks he has his finger on the pulse of what party activists and voters want, does the public at large want his finger on the nuclear button? Rory Stewart last night warned against picking ‘the greatest clown’, asking: “is this the person you want writing the instructions to the nuclear submarines?”
We published some fascinating research last night which suggests why Johnson has shifted from the metrosexual liberal figure of his Mayoral days to the hard-Brexiteer-cheerleader of today. Analysis by Tim Bale and Paul Webb found that Tory members who supported him tend to be more right-wing and more pro-no-deal than Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove supporters. And they are more likely to have joined the party since the EU referendum. It’s not quite mass entryism by UKippers, but it gives pause for thought.
Today, Johnson supporters are expecting a joke-free speech full of seriousness. “It should be a great launch - as long as he doesn’t fuck it up,” one ministerial ally told me last night.
2. BLOCKING MAJORITY
Labour is using its Opposition Day to try a pre-emptive strike against a no-deal Johnson premiership. The plan is audacious, and if passed would pave the way to more interesting legislative creativity on June 25. But will it get the rebel Remainer Tory votes it needs to get over the first hurdle? It could be a case of close, but no cigar. Nick Boles is an independent so could back it, but it’s hard to see where the other numbers come from.
The main reason is that no leadership campaign wants to be anywhere near anything that looks like collusion with Corbyn. Nicky Morgan last night made plain that even as an avowed anti-no-dealer this was the wrong vehicle. And don’t forget this is a three-line whip, even under a diminished Theresa May, voting for the actual official Opposition motion is strong beer.
Rory Stewart had his first major U-turn of his own campaign last night as he rapidly realised that his initial flirtation with the Labour motion would mean him, er, quitting the Cabinet. Perhaps carried away by his Big Tent fanbase, Stewart said: “My instinct is I would be wholly supportive of a move that tried to do that.” Just over an hour later he tweeted: “For the avoidance of any doubt - I have read the Labour motion proposed for tomorrow and I will NOT be voting for it.” Even romantic Rory has his limits.
It’s tricky for Team Gove that Sir Oliver Letwin is the man whose name is on the cross-party motion led by Labour, a fact pointed out by Boris backer Steve Baker last night. But at least Letwin is confronting the Parliamentary reality that other Remainer Tories have not grasped: in the absence of any government bill/vote on Brexit (and none is likely for a long time), only the Opposition can use its allotted time to force this issue. The route to a backbench, cross-party coalition will have to go through Labour if anything is to happen before the end of the Tory race.
Within an hour of the Commons vote today, Sajid Javid launches his own formal campaign. Thanks to a well-received video yesterday (much less wooden than any of his media performances) and big endorsements like Ruth Davidson’s, Javid could become the tortoise that catches the hares in this race. It’s true that if it was him against Johnson in the final two, the party rank and file really would have a choice between two very different looking and sounding candidates.
But Javid needs more MPs and quick. Dominic Raab has a solid core of supporters (the BBC reveals he is targeting older Tory voters via Facebook more effectively than rivals). Raab could pick up Esther McVey’s backers if she’s forced to drop out (will he adapt her blue-collar Conservativism plans to slash foreign aid and give a pay rise to public sector workers?) Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt has picked up the endorsement of business secretary Greg Clark today in the FT. Will Chancellor Philip Hammond join him later? It’s not all about Boris today, despite appearances.
3. HELP FOR ZEROES
One of the most startling findings in the analysis of Boris’s Tory supporters is that they really don’t want to focus on climate change as an issue. This is despite Johnson’s own green rhetoric. And the emergency facing the planet is at least being taken seriously by Theresa May today as she unveils legislation to make the UK the first country in the world to force itself to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Will Johnson embrace this wholeheartedly today, or will he listen to warnings from people like the Chancellor who say it will all cost too much money in the short term? Bang on cue, the Guardian has a splashpointing out that carbon emissions from the global energy industry last year rose at the fastest rate in a decade. Extreme weather and surprise swings in global temperatures stoked extra demand for fossil fuels.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this amazing time-lapse video showing how hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents flooded the streets to protest changes in their basic rights.
4. KIN KONG
The hot news from Hong Kong is that the legislative council has delayed the controversial bill that would allow sweeping extradition to mainland China. Some 30 years after Tiananmen Square, the bravery of the young protestors is humbling. Taking direct action blocking government buildings to protect their rights, they look to have won a temporary victory, but the bigger question is just what Beijing orders next.
5. LICENCE TO SHILL
The backlash over the BBC’s decision to curb free TV licences for over-75s continues. I suspect that a new Tory leader will have to stump up the cash as the blame game is sure to be turned on the government by Jeremy Corbyn at the next election. Surely he will raise this in PMQs today (if anyone is watching)? Labour MPs have taken quiet pleasure in all those tabloids now railing against the cuts - particularly those newspapers which called for Gordon Brown’s ‘pensioner perks’ to be axed previously.
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