Over half of those entitled to vote in the Conservative leadership election may already have done so. According to YouGov, Boris Johnson was leading Jeremy Hunt among Party members last week by 74 per cent to 26 per cent. Our own survey a few days earlier put Johnson on 67 per cent and Hunt on 29 per cent.
The contest may be closer than either suggest, but this site is yet to find evidence to support such a view, and as we write Johnson looks set to win. Some of Hunt’s supporters, and Party members more widely, may therefore want him to pull his punches in this evening’s ITV debate between the two candidates – their first head to head since this final stage of the contest began.
They will argue that the debating equivalent of mud wrestling will do nothing for the Party’s reputation, and worry too that, if Hunt gets too close and personal, Johnson will take revenge when the election ends. They may be pondering the latter’s claim that his favourite film scene is “the multiple retribution killings at the end of The Godfather“. Instead of a slugfest, they want a minuet – or perhaps more appropriately, given the Foreign Secretary’s dancing interests, a lambada.
We hope that Hunt provides nothing of the kind. This site has come out for Johnson, but it is important that, if he is indeed set to win, he should be tested thoroughly tonight. And while the front-runner has not exactly been avoiding scrutiny – we ourselves interviewed him recently – Hunt is right to point out that his opponent has ensured that this debate takes place after a mass of Party members have already voted.
As for providing ammunition for Corbyn, we believe that the Foreign Secretary is more than capable of conducting the evening’s business without turning into the Indoraptor from Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom. (Which would be a surprise for all concerned, including him).
And as for revenge, this site was early to say that Johnson’s Cabinet must be signed up to No Deal if necessary – a view that he himself endorsed in our interview with him. Within that constraint, he needs, given the lack of a Conservative majority, to form the broadest-based Cabinet possible, as Henry Newman writes on this site today.
That means keeping Hunt in a senior position, perhaps as Deputy Leader, and using him to work across government if he is required to move from the Foreign Office. At any rate, it is precisely Hunt’s underdog status that should free him, this evening, to bite a bit as well as bark.