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“Who would win in a fight – a lion or a bear?” The most enjoyable question of the day was put by Oliver Milne of The Daily Mirror to Mark Harper, who was disappointed that his “Ask Me Anything” policy had at length, after a good deal of toing and froing about Brexit, produced an exhausted silence.

“On the basis that the lion is the symbol of Britain,” Harper declared, “I’m going to say the lion.”

The title of “least known Conservative leadership candidate” is hotly contested, but Harper has a strong claim to it.

He is a former Chief Whip, and remarked that if you succeed in that role, people do not talk about you.

And he says of his rivals, “every single one of them has participated in fundamental misjudgments” while in government. He thinks many of them are still doing so.

“Nothing will put rocket boosters under Nigel Farage,” he warned, “like making a promise we’re going to leave on 31st October and then not keeping it.”

So Harper does not promise that. He says he will “bust a gut” to get a deal, and that this will perhaps enable him to carry people like Philip Hammond with him if these most sincere efforts prove unavailing and leaving without a deal becomes unavoidable.

“I don’t agree it’s not possible to get anything done,” he said of the parliamentary arithmetic. It was refreshing to listen to a candidate who in place of extravagant promises prefers understatement. The double negative still has its place in British politics.

And so does respectability. When the drugs question was put to Harper, he reiterated that he has never taken any: “I don’t get invited to those sort of parties.”

Chris Heaton-Harris had earlier declared, at Andrea Leadsom’s launch: “We need a leader who is decisive and compassionate.”

A bold statement, which will alienate all those of us who believe we need an indecisive and merciless leader.

Leadsom said “leaving on 31st October is for me a hard red line”. Her supporters clapped. No fear here of putting rocket boosters under Nigel Farage by failing to keep another promise.

She added that “staying in government to fight for Brexit was the right thing to do”. She will, by the way, be “a decisive and compassionate leader”, who “empowers you to achieve impossible dreams”.

39 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s leadership sketch: Harper warns that making and breaking another promise will put rocket boosters under Farage

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