Conservative Party members will vote in this leadership election, first, for the candidate they consider more likely to deliver Brexit and, second, win a general election – whether Britain has or hasn’t left the EU by the time it takes place.
Last weekend’s YouGov poll, reports from the ground and our own survey this week suggest that they believe that this person is Boris Johnson. Furthermore, enough activists have already returned their ballot papers to guarantee his victory, if our survey was correct.
Finally by way of introduction, many Party members appear to think that the media is biased against Johnson’s candidacy.
This helps to explain why those polls, surveys and reports show that he has survived both his domestic row and the Kim Darroch resignation unscathed.
It’s necessary to set out this background before turning to what any floating Tory activist viewer will have made of this evening’s Andrew Neil BBC interviews with both Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.
For Neil cannot be written off as a member of some media liberal elite. The former Sunday Times Editor and Spectator Chairman is well known to be firmly right of centre.
He is also a formidably focused and forensic interviewer who does his research, has a hulking TV presence, and cannot easily be evaded – let alone bullied and blustered.
As the editors of the site predicted in this week’s ConservativeHome Tory Leadership Election podcast, Neil zeroed in not primarily on policy but on character.
Jeremy Hunt was assailed as a flip-flopper; Johnson as an untrustworthy chancer. Neil duly scored hits on both during his half hour probing each.
Hunt had to explain why he is willing to tolerate No Deal when he is on record as saying it will be a catastrophe. Johnson was counter-punched by Neil on the detail of how his plan to replace the backstop would work.
Our take is that Hunt was calmer under fire and more convincing on the economic detail – which Neil is interested in and on which he partly concentrated.
Johnson, perhaps for the first time during the campaign, shifted in his chair, was headed off from diversions, and eventually showed signs of losing his cool.
Floaters may not have been reassured by the way in which Neil pushed him over Darroch and skewered him on Paragraph 5) C of Article XXIV of GATT.
Just as well for Johnson, then, that most Conservative members are set to vote for him regardless; that many of these may even have done so already…and that others still will have been distracted by a confrontation elsewhere: Federer v Nadal.