Last fool standing: the Tory leadership race is well and truly on
A video of Boris Johnson posing for photos outside Sports Direct, and talking about “dosh” on people’s doorsteps while discussing the need to bolster the UK economy, has all the trappings of a spoof documentary about a wannabe prime minister trying to blend in with the hoi polloi.
But Johnson’s cringeworthy attempt to get down with the electorate as part of his campaign to become the next PM is, in fact, real life. Or at least as close to real life as we can get in this political parallel universe in which we are currently living.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that the prospect of BoJo as PM would have been as laughable as the UK voting to leave the EU or a party run by Nigel Farage dominating the European elections, but here we are.
“Safe big city it was when I used to run it, I can tell you,” Johnson boasts, almost ladishly, highlighting his success in reducing London’s crime rate by 20 per cent while on his doorstep tour, which he filmed and used as his campaign video.
As the Tory leadership race heated up this week, clear favourite Johnson - who came out on top in the first round of voting - initially removed himself from the spotlight while the other remaining candidates launched their own campaigns and videos.
However, he did tell his ally The Telegraph that if he became PM, he would reduce income-tax bills for three million people earning more than £50,000 a year by raising the 40 per cent tax rate threshold to £80,000.
Johnson would do this partly by using “dosh” set aside by the Treasury for a possible no-deal Brexit, and partly by increasing employee National Insurance contributions in line with the new income-tax threshold.
Leadership rival Dominic Raab, on the other hand, would do the exact opposite.
One of the six contenders still standing, having secured at least 17 votes each in the first voting round, Raab wants to prioritise tax cuts for the lowest earners, not the higher earners.
He would lift the National Insurance threshold, taking the lowest paid earners out of tax altogether, arguing that Johnson’s plans reinforce “the caricature that you’re the party of the privileged and you are only in it to help the wealthy”.
The self-proclaimed ‘Brexiteer you can rely on’, Raab promised to lead the UK out of the EU by the end of October.
“We’ve been humiliated as a country in these talks with the EU,” he said. “We’re divided at home and demeaned abroad.”
Meanwhile, fellow rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – who received the second highest number of votes in the first round of the contest to succeed Theresa May – won the support of Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt.
Launching his campaign, Hunt focused on breaking the Brexit impasse and stated that an “experienced, serious leader” was needed.
He said he would deliver Brexit before allowing a general election, stating the failure to leave the EU had “put our country and our party in grave peril”.
“Without a deal, any prime minister who promised to leave by a certain date would have to call a general election to change the parliamentary arithmetic. And that is an election we would lose badly,” he said. “If we fight an election before delivering Brexit, we will be annihilated.”
However, it was his stance on abortion that garnered the most interest after he was criticised for saying he believed the legal time for an abortion should be reduced from 24 weeks to 12 – despite insisting that this was only his “personal view” and not something he was seeking to make law.
But Hunt had nothing on Michael Gove when it came to controversy after the Environment Secretary admitted to taking cocaine.
Apparently, as it was two decades ago and he acknowledges he “made a mistake”, he is still fit to run the country.
Drug-taking aside, Gove said he can lead Britain to be the “best country in the world” for education and science, as well as a place to start, grow and run a business, to raise a family, and “to love and live as you wish”.
Sounds great, but how do we do it? By “bringing people together”, of course.
He would also introduce policies including the creation of a national cyber crime taskforce and more protection for the armed forces against legal challenges.
In addition, he would “ensure that our NHS is fully-funded, properly funded” and that that funding is protected under law.
Another candidate who admitted to drug use is Rory Stewart, the International Development Secretary, who said he smoked opium once at a wedding in Iran, though he seemed to get off a lot lighter than Gove.
Stewart, who has become a social media favourite by taking his campaign the length and breadth of the country and making quirky videos, has dubbed himself the “anti-Boris” candidate.
“I think I am the only person who can beat him. We are facing a very, very fundamental choice,” he told reporters at Westminster. “That choice is between Boris’s Brexit and my Brexit, between somebody who is attempting to out-Farage Farage, and somebody like me who believes in the centre ground.”
As well as hitting out at rivals for using “cheap electoral bribes” by promising £84bn of tax cuts and spending increases in their quest to become PM, Stewart has pledged to launch a ‘national citizen service’ for every young person at 16 where they will “go and spend two weeks with people from different backgrounds, often in an outdoor education setting to learn skills, develop confidence and then two weeks giving back to a community with a community designed project”.
He continued: “It’s a fantastic way of bringing people from Scotland and England together, a fantastic way of bringing people from more deprived backgrounds and more well-off backgrounds together. A fantastic way of bringing together a sense of national pride,” he said.
Also jumping on the home-video bandwagon was Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who opted to take a more personal approach, talking about his own background and portraying the image of a hardworking family man.
Posting the video on Twitter, he said: “I got into politics because I wanted to give back to our country, which has given me so many opportunities. I’m proud to be able to share my story with you.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is publicly backing ‘Team Saj’, describing him as “the man for the job” and “the real deal” and he has also won the support of ministers Caroline Nokes and Victoria Atkins.
‘The Saj’ - who said he would recruit a crowd-pleasing 20,000 police officers if he became PM - made himself unpopular in Scotland by saying he would not “allow” a second Scottish independence referendum. But he did instead succeed in being the subject of the rather humorous PermissionFromSajid hashtag on Twitter.
With the six candidates now facing a series of votes to determine who will be the last man standing - the only two female candidates failed to make it through to the final seven - and a myriad of policies, personalities and practicalities to plough through, this leadership contest is nothing if not chaotic.
Or, as Nicola Sturgeon put it: “What a horror show the Tory leadership election is. Tax cuts for the richest, attacks on abortion rights, hypocrisy on drugs, continued Brexit delusion.”