Behind the scenes of anti-Left politics in Britain, the usual suspects are at work flexing their finely honed but unelected muscles. Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have been working that room better than anyone in the stampede to snatch the Crown of Thorns from Theresa May. A victory for Nigel Farage in tomorrow’s Peterborough by-election will be seen as a boost for The Brexit Party. But it might yet propel Boris Johnson into Number Ten.
Just as the Brexit saga is about far more than UK independence, so too the Conservative leadership contest result will dictate more than the fate of sovereign Brexit. If one can imagine the current crop of Tories having such a thing, it is about the Party’s soul.
I am saddled with having said many times since 2015 that Jeremy Hunt would one day lead the Party, because he knows where the money, influence and interests are. Equally, since 2010 I have said consistently that Boris Johnson is the single biggest political threat to free-speech democracy in Britain. (I fingered him alongside Harriet Harman, but mercifully she has now retired to enjoy her astronomical Unite pension).
Jeremy and Boris are very different men, but absolutely identical in their repulsive ability to exploit everything that’s wrong with contemporary government, and the influences upon it. In turn, both have identified their main political enemy with clinical accuracy: Nigel Farage.
Tomorrow, Farage’s Brexit Party faces something of a crossroads, in that there will be a by-election in Peterborough. The seat is very marginal, and a two thirds majority of the city’s inhabitants voted to leave the EU. Thus (riding the euroelection wave of TBP triumph) there is a good chance that Farage’s candidate can take the seat. It appears on the surface to be an acid test: can europrotest votes be turned into UK Parliament votes?
Mike Green, the 54-year-old former Conservative backer who was brought up in the city, is a fringe celebrity generally regarded as a good Brexit Party candidate: he left the Tories on principle after May refused to leave with no deal on March 29th. Although we lack a firm opinion poll in the constituency, my gut feel is that the Brexit Party will win. But such would be a mixed blessing for Nigel Farage….and bad news for Jeremy Hunt.
It’s no coincidence that Johnson launched his Premiership bid with a video set in Peterborough. Hunt has also this week been working hard to bolster his leaver credentials. But if TBP takes the seat, it will switch a lot of either-way Tories into the BoJo camp. Further, if Boris gets the keys to Number Ten, Farage will have a much tougher battle to steal disillusioned Tory voters.
At the start of the leadership battle, I tipped Hunt purely because it seemed to me clear that Boris Johnson would be blocked from getting through to the Second Round by the Remainer instincts of the Parliamentary Party, and the obvious ploy of multiple candidacies nibbling at any chance BoJo might have of engineering a mass shift of MP opinion towards his bid. But since then, three events have intervened.
First, the 1922 Committee has changed the entry rules to weed out the also-rans…a pretty disgraceful thing to do once the race had started. Second, Johnson himself has leveraged his well-known media contacts to maximum effect: the Murdoch press today looks like a Boris to Bash Brussels convention, while his almer mater The Telegraph is running nonstop pieces to point out how effectively he is gathering momentum. And third, firm leaver MP Steve Baker has gone bigtime into social media saying “Only those candidates committed to a non-negotiable WTO Brexit if all else fails can save the Party from oblivion”. From the off, Boris has made his position crystal clear on that point.
Anything from a TBP victory to a sweeping landslide in Peterborough could turn the tables irreversibly in BoJo’s direction. The support for that contention is a concrete one based on experience: there is nothing more likely to influence a useless backbencher than the threat of being thrown off the gravy train at Tumbleweed Junction.
Equally clear, however, is that Mr Hunt is pulling in Tory big beasts, prominent donors and international leaders to his cause: he’s now on first-name terms with Donald, having laid into the bonkers UK Left on his behalf. Equally, in his campaign video, the Foreign Secretary is going hard for a Man of the People claim in order to present himself in a less privileged light than Boris the Bullingdon Boy from Eton. He describes “the daily grind to stay alive as a young entrepreneur”.
Allow me to set things straight here. Hunt used his influence with second cousin Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone to blag a monopoly contract with the incorrigibly corrupt British Council for his company Hotcourses. His ‘daily grind’ followed an education at prestigious private school Charterhouse and Magdalen College, Oxford. He inherited Bottomley’s seat when she went to the Lords. He ingratiated himself with Newscorp by brokering a deal to support the Conservatives in the 2010 General Election. His life as a networking MP has been consistently subsidised by the substantial funds of mysterious Tory kingmaker J J Lewis.
Jeremy Hunt is a man of the rich people with hidden power. So too is Boris Johnson. There is nothing to choose between them save for one thing: Brussels is infinitely more scared of Bojo than Jezzer.
On such things as random by-elections, EU stupidity, media mogul ambitions, nepotism, Oxbridge and existential Conservative Party panic are the future of Nations decided. Serendipidy has handed the voters of Peterborough a remarkable level of power.