Although there might not be another general election in the United Kingdom until 2022, there will be a new prime minister thanks to the resignation of Theresa May. Now Conservative MPs have whittled the field down to two options – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – it is up to 150,000 Conservative members to decide who will next lead the country and tackle the biggest issue in British politics at the present moment – Brexit.
It is a topic that remains highly divisive in the UK, and whoever it is that triumphs in the Tory leadership battle will need to consider how they can reunite the country. At the start of the race many of the front runners in political betting odds were willing to go for a no-deal Brexit, but such a risk could cause the collapse of the Tory party and the dissolution of the United Kingdom.
Is either man up to the job?
Boris Johnson is odds-on favourite to become the next prime minister, but with a reputation for gaffes there is still a chance he could throw it all away with news of another affair or being caught in more lies. His minders have mostly kept him away from the cameras during the campaign so far, but he will not be able to hide forever.
Johnson’s loose tongue will be unlikely to lose him support amongst the Tory faithful, with many supporting how he “tells it as it is”, comments likening Muslim women to letterboxes or describing black people as “Picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” is unlikely to win him support from centrists.
Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park & North Kingston, tweeted about how he believes the audience at Johnson’s campaign launch proved that he is the right man to lead and unite both the Conservative Party and the country.
The audience here for Boris’s launch demonstrates beyond doubt that his is the only campaign that has drawn support from every part of the Conservative Party. He will unite the party and the country.
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) June 12, 2019
However, as a leader of the Leave campaign and a habitual liar, Johnson has burned many bridges since he was a popular London mayor. His record of wasting money on vanity projects like the so-called “Garden Bridge”, purchase of illegal riot-control water cannons to crush dissent, and recent shift to anti-immigration and nationalistic language has left him as persona non grata in much of the city he once led.
He may be popular with the Tory party, but in the wider country his reputation is in tatters. If he does become prime minister and leads the country off a cliff with a no-deal Brexit, he may be remembered as the man that killed the Tory party.
He was one of the most despised health secretaries in living memory, but somehow Jeremy Hunt has managed to become the “moderate” opposition candidate to Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership race.
After a number of years cutting of being the face of unpopular cuts to the NHS, Hunt has managed to salvage some of his reputation for competence as Foreign Secretary, a position where Johnson floundered. However, as a long-term supporter of Theresa May, and after supporting Remain in the Brexit referendum, he is unlikely to beat Johnson to the top job.
His support is so low amongst Tory members, who see him as Tarnished by his proximity to May, that it is rumoured a number of Johnson supporters tactically voted for him to be the opposition candidate instead of Michael Gove, who many saw as more of a threat.
Whoever becomes the next prime minister will face a premiership defined by Brexit. Johnson will find any plans for a no-deal Brexit will be thwarted by parliament, whilst Hunt will struggle to find support amongst his own party for anything more moderate. The only way out of this conundrum is to put the question of Brexit back to the people in either a general election or another referendum, but neither man will admit this in public, each preferring their own brand of Brexit unicorns.