Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
So it’s to be Bozzer v Jezza. Will it be Tory Wars – or a campaign which can in some way bring the party together? One thing is for sure, it will be very different to the Parliamentary side of the campaign. There won’t be any vote-lending for a start.
Now we move on to the campaign in the country, where the final two candidates will speak at a series of hustings organised by CCHQ. Many of you will be attending them, and help put the two finalists through their paces.
I’ll be compering ten of these hustings, up and down the country, starting in the West Midlands tomorrow. It promises to be quite an experience.
We will never know how much ‘vote-lending’ went on in this election, but it’s a fair bet to assume that it happened far more than in any previous contest. In some ways, when there is a candidate whose vote total far outstrips any other, it is inevitable, especially when the campaign’s chief ‘whipper in’ is someone as skilled in the dark arts as Gavin Williamson.
At least, that is what many Tory MPs are assuming. Vote-lending has allowed Boris Johnson, in effect, to choose his opponent in the final round. The Raab campaign is convinced that their man was targeted in the second round of voting. They believe that at least eight Johnson supporters were encouraged to lend their votes to Sajid Javid, in the hope that he would get through to the next round at the expense of arch-Brexiteer Raab.
In that round, Raab’s vote went up from 27 to 30, while Javid’s soared from 23 to 33, therefore just squeezing across the line. Job done. Raab was out.
It is also suspected that the almost doubling of Rory Stewart’s vote from 19 to 37 was in part down to vote-lending too. Given that in the next ballot his vote plummeted by 10, it’s easy to see why. Keith Simpson is right. It really is the most duplicitous electorate in the world! Stewart’s campaign is understandably a bit vexed about this turn of events, but in the end, both he and Raab didn’t get through for the simple reason that they didn’t have enough votes.
Both Stewart and Raab may be out of this contest, but both have burnished their reputations. It’s inconceivable that Raab won’t be offered a major cabinet post by whoever emerges triumphant.
Stewart’s quixotic campaign was very effective in that he is now a major national name, even if it irritated many of his colleagues. He’s the new media darling, with such commentators as Robert Peston viewing him almost as the second coming. He became box office, because he knew how to play the media, and it was only too willing to dance to his maverick tune.
Having ruled out serving in a Johnson cabinet, and on the assumption that the latter wins, Stewart has placed himself firmly as the head of the leader of the internal Tory opposition. And believe me, there’s quite some competition for that post. If everything goes wrong with a Johnson premiership, Stewart can emerge and say ‘told you so’, having kept his hands clean.
In the last two days of the campaign, however, he vastly overplayed his hand to the point where even some of his admirers were left wondering how much this was all about principle and how much it was about ego. The dramatic taking off of his tie two minutes into the BBC debate was a great act of symbolism. Was it spontaneous, or was it pre-planned? He hoped that it would demonstrate his man of the people credentials. All it did was make him look a bit odd.
A lot has been said about the direness of the BBC debate, so I won’t dwell on it for too long here. I couldn’t watch it as it was broadcast during my radio show. We had asked the BBC if we could simulcast it, but they refused. It’s the unique way they’re funded, you see.
As it turns out, we had a lucky escape. All we were allowed to broadcast was a total of four minutes afterwards. And believe me, my producers struggled to find four minutes worth putting out. Dreadful hardly covers it. The format was wrong, the set was wrong and the question selection was bizarre. It made the Channel Four debate look like a blockbuster event by comparison.
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This week I completed my interviews with 9 of the final 10 candidates in this leadership contest. The long form one hour format really worked, with me interviewing them all for half an hour followed by half an hour of listener calls. The final two interviews, with Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove on Wednesday were, I thought, perhaps the pick of the lot, but as the host, perhaps I am the wrong person to judge.
I felt these interviews got far more out of the candidates than any debate format ever could. I still remain in hope that I’ll be able to complete the set over the next couple of weeks and that Boris Johnson will grace the LBC studio with his presence.