- The vocation of the front-runner is not to mess up. And Boris Johnson hasn’t done so this week. Indeed, if anything he has upped his pace and that of the contest. His team has released enough supporter names to increase his supporter lead, but seem to be keeping enough back for a final push before the first ballot next week. The joint piece endorsing him by Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick and Rishi Sunak was a socking great straw in the leadership election wind. These ambitious ministers clearly wanted to get aboard a bandwagon and shout about doing so. Johnson is set to take some risks over the next few days with interviews and speeches: his camp know that they cannot simply lock him away until polling day (much as they might like to). At any rate, he performed very solidly this week at the One Nation and European Research Group hustings.
- We argued that Michael Gove was last week’s winner, and continues to make his case with clarity and conviction. (The mess-up over a Donald Trump interview earlier in the week was a minor detail.) The Environment Secretary is an announcement maestro, and he returned to his old stomping-ground, education policy, to back a schools’ spending increase this week. But what he has not done is put on supporters at the same rate as Johnson, though it’s worth noting that Kemi Badenoch came out for him this morning. The main attack line of his opponents, which ConservativeHome has tried out for size, is that Gove is unpopular and untrustworthy. It’s worth reading his riposte on this site today to see how he deals with it. His EU policy of extension if necessary might well avoid an autumn election – which is more than can be said for that of other candidates.
- Like Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt’s room for policy manoeuvre is constrained by his job as a holder of a great office of state. If he releases a mass of new policy ideas, the comeback is obvious: why haven’t they been implemented already, given your seniority in government? So the Foreign Secretary must make do with his seniority, his experience, his record as an NHS reformer, and his background as an entrepreneur. (His one big policy announcement, a corporation tax cut, fits the last part of that narrative.) Hunt’s campaign video launched him formally this week, and played to these strengths effectively. But, like Gove, he has not been putting on MP supporters at the same rate as Johnson, though he gained the endorsement of Liam Fox, one of the few non-candidate Cabinet members to have declared to date.
- Dominic Raab has become the target of much of the left of the Party and of the Left outside it, too. Despite support from Maria Miller, and a policy platform that includes better legal protection for working mothers, he is under attack as anti-women – apparently because he won’t describe himself as a feminist. He left a door open to prorogation during his interview with the One Nation Caucus: cue outrage (much of it manufactured). Raab wants to frame himself as the candidate of opportunity for all; his opponents want to frame him as a narrow right-winger. That he has not piled on endorsements this week suggests that he is not breaking through. His policy of improving May’s deal didn’t go down well with some at the ERG hustings. The beneficiary in that case and more broadly may be Johnson.
- Sajid Javid’s campaign is a puzzle. Obviously, he has limited room for new policies – for the same reasons as his fellow holder of a great office of state, Jeremy Hunt. One of his campaign’s main pitches is that he is new, an ethnic minority member, has a great “back story” and is an icon of aspiration. The mystery is that his campaign has not succeeded so far in linking these selling points to the polling evidence – which does indeed show that he and Johnson are the two most popular candidates with voters. (Robert Halfon’s column for this site earlier this week, plus YouGov findings more broadly, are worth probing for evidence.) It may be that Javid’s campaign is sitting on a pile of undeclared supporters, or that he will out-perform his present total next Thursday. But he has been static to date.
- Elsewhere, Matt Hancock, Rory Stewart and Sam Gyimah will fight it out next week for what’s undeclared and undecided of the very sizeable Tory Left / Soft Brexiteer / Remainer vote. (Seventy-seven per cent of the first’s support and 100 per cent of the second’s voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, according to David Jeffrey.) Esther McVey could surprise if, as the only outright No Dealer in the contest, she picks up “Spartan” votes in the early rounds. It is very hard to see where votes for Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom will come from. James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse were prudent to drop out of the election earlier this week. Steve Baker and Penny Mordaunt have left it very late indeed to enter the lists, if either are minded to do so.
The Budget should be a big reset moment for post-Brexit, post-Covid Britain. It risks being lost amidst a rush to tax rises.
“There had been suggestions by members of ‘Team Carrie’ that Mr Cummings was behind the hostile briefings against the dog.” Discuss.
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