Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
It’s over. And I’m sad. Believe it or not, I have found it a very enjoyable experience chairing ten of the 16 leadership hustings. It’s left me feeling far more positive about the Conservative Party than maybe I was before.
Take the London hustings, for example. The BBC estimated there were four thousand people at the Excel Centre on Wednesday evening. There really was standing room only.
As the host for the evening, this was a real challenge. Before I walked on stage, I was nervous in a way I hadn’t been at any of the previous hustings. There was a tremendous number of ways in which it could all have gone wrong.
In the end, the only real challenge of the evening came in the Q&A sessions, because the microphone runners seemed to find it very difficult to find the person I had pointed to give the microphone to. “The gentleman at the back waving both his arms above his head,” felt to me to be a pretty good indication of whom I had in mind.
The mic was then given to a woman in a completely different area. This happened time after time – even when I felt I had been abundantly clear who I meant. Clearly not. When I flicked through Twitter the next morning, it became clear that what I thought was jocular joshing with the microphone runners had been interpreted as me being nasty and arrogant of me by some people. I’m told it came across far worse on the radio than it did elsewhere.
Well, let me apologise to the microphone runners and to anyone in the audience who felt I had overstepped the mark. Someone even complained that I had gestured to a woman and asked her to stand up when she was asking her question. I thought I was doing her a favour! Still, lesson learned.
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They say: never work with children and animals. We got to the last question to Boris Johnson on Wednesday, and I picked a lady near the front. Then it suddenly hit me. It wasn’t her wanting to ask a question – she was pointing to her son next to her. He couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old.
“OMG,” I thought. “This could go terribly wrong.” But I needn’t have worried. He stood on his chair, grabbed the microphone and said: “Mr Johnson, if you become Prime Minister, what will you do about climate change?” I issued a silent sigh of relief.
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In five days’ time we will almost certainly have a new Prime Minister. Everyone seems to have written off Jeremy Hunt’s chances of pulling off a surprise victory, but I do think the result may – repeat, may – be somewhat closer than some of the surveys and polls suggest.
My gut feel is that if Johnson wins, it will be by a tighter margin than David Cameron won in 2005 (66 per cent to 33 per cent). If he wins by a greater margin, he will have more or less free rein to fashion his government in his own image. Anything less than a 60-40 victory, and carving the ministerial joint may be slightly more complex.
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Over the next few days, everyone will be pontificating about what a Johnson Cabinet will look like. The truth is no one knows, and those they pretend that they have some sort of inside knowledge are playing the political journalists who feed off every morsel.
A lot of people are expecting to be rewarded: Gavin Williamson and Grant Shapps to name but two. They were key members of his campaign team during the parliamentary stages of the contest. Jake Berry and Nigel Adams, two of Boris’s key lieutenants from 2016, both of whom who have stuck by him, can reasonably expect to get some sort of reward for their loyalty, along with Conor Burns, his former PPS.
The appointment of a new Chief Whip will send out all sorts of signals, depending on who takes up the cudgels. Gavin Williamson might be thought to be a hot tip to return to the job he loved and was good at, but the word on the street is that he has decided it would be a mistake. His sights are set rather higher, but a return to Defence surely has to be ruled out.
Indeed, there ought not to be a vacancy at all at Defence, given the job fits Penny Mordaunt like a hand in a glove. Just because she declared for Jeremy Hunt does not mean she shouldn’t keep her job.
It will be interesting to see if Johnson appoints a woman to one of the great offices of state. If so, will it be Amber Rudd, Liz Truss or Andrea Leadsom? Or maybe Mordaunt will be levered out of Defence and offered the Home Office.
That would probably mean Sajid Javid becoming Chancellor. Interestingly, there has been a bit of a ‘Stop Saj’ move within team Johnson. They wonder if he has the radical vision a new chancellor will need. If that were the criteria for the job, there would be only one candidate – Michael Gove. But the history between the two men…
Even more interesting than that will be to see whether Hunt keeps his role at the Foreign Office. It’s clear he expects to, but his attacks on Johnson during the ITV debate went down like a cup of cold sick with Team Johnson. Relations have been repaired, but it remains to be seen how elephant-like Boris’s memory is, and whether he can really forgive, even if he can’t forget.
It’s going to be an exciting week!