The recent rise in Conservative fortunes – aided in no small part by the fragmentation of the left – has shortened the odds on David Cameron making it back into Number 10 in May.
Yet speculation about a future Tory leadership contest continues unabated, and today’s papers carry interviews with two men tipped as potential successors to the Prime Minister: Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary, and Boris Johnson.
With both occurring at roughly the same time and covering several important subjects – Europe and Islamist terror – these interviews provide an interesting opportunity to compare and contrast the styles of these potential leaders.
In his discussion with The House magazine Javid comes across for the most part as an amiable, hyper-competent technocrat. He demonstrates a tight grasp on the quantitative achievements of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), as well as detailed understanding of the policy challenges it faces.
To offset this potentially robotic front, Javid lends careful emphasis to his background and family, relating how he takes his children with him to visit galleries and plays and his firm support for the broadcasting watershed.
On the subject of Islamist extremism, the Culture Secretary reiterated his view that British Muslims could not disown the “cancer” of religious terrorism, even if it bore little resemblance to their own religious beliefs.
Perhaps strangely for a man who reads Ayn Rand to his wife there is relatively little evidence of individualist zeal: despite headline-making doubts about plain packaging Javid supports a broad range of anti-tobacco measures, including punitive levels of sin taxation. To quote the article: “Javid is keen on the EU directive on cigarette packaging”.
Despite this the Culture Secretary describes the prospect of leaving the European Union as “nothing to be frightened of” – although his language is less pugnacious than that of other Cabinet ministers like Gove, Hammond or Grayling.
He also appeared to suggest that Tory ministers should be free to campaign on their consciences in any European referendum.
Whilst Javid was discussing policy with a Westminster magazine, Boris was in Iraq, talking to the Sun (£) and getting photographed with an AK-47.
In many ways, this interview is a study in contrasts with Javid’s. The two men almost seem to have adopted opposing emphases.
Where the Culture Secretary tackles policy questions in technocratic terms and offsets this with humanising details, the Mayor tackles policy with an air of jocular populism whilst dropping details – such as his new hobby of learning Mandarin – that reinforce how special he is.
Thus whilst he agrees with Javid that British Muslims must do more to help tackle those who kill in the name of their religion, the latter are denounced as “severe onanists” who “are not making it with girls”.
He is much more explicit in singling out Muslim leaders who are “too quick to scream ‘Islamophobia’”, and reveals something of a hawkish streak when he suggests that Britain should have maintained a military presence in Basra after our actual withdrawal in 2011.
On Europe, he takes a similar line to Javid, arguing in Time magazine that although there would be a “testy, scratchy period” British departure from the EU “wouldn’t be disastrous”.
There thus appears to be a growing political generation gap between Cameron, who wants to stay in, and his probable successors.
The lack of policy detail in Boris’ interview, perhaps evidence of a preference for politics in broad strokes, lends credence to recent suggestions – first reported on ConHome – that he will be made a roving minister without portfolio in a post-2015 Cameron ministry.
Whilst neither man expresses any dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister’s leadership, we can nonetheless see in these interviews the contours of two parallel but contrasting leadership offers.