It is a week on since the first hustings of the Tory leadership run off. Boris Johnson appears to have righted the wobble that led to his rather lacklustre performance in Birmingham. But Jeremy Hunt is not going to ease off. As I report in The Sun this morning, the Hunt campaign’s attitude is, ‘We’re not going to let up on attacking Boris because we know it is cutting through’
The Hunt camp point to polling in the last few days which shows that he has a bigger advantage over Jeremy Corbyn than Boris Johnson and that the public prefer Hunt to Johnson as Prime Minister.
This may be, and Hunt—who is far less well known that Boris—may be benefitting from some kind of novelty factor. But it is Tory members who pick the next party leader, not the general public. The savvier of Hunt’s MP supporters admit that he still trails badly with this group.
I understand from one of those crucial to Boris Johnson’s victory in the parliamentary stages that the campaign’s own polling tallies with public surveys suggesting that he is ahead by a close to two to one margin with Tory members. One of Johnson’s leading backers tells me that sixty percent is the benchmark for success; that a victory by a 20 point margin would give him momentum going into Number 10 and help establish his authority with the parliamentary party.
Boris’s backers have been infuriated by how hard Hunt has gone in this contest. They concede that party unity dictates that they’ll have to offer him a Cabinet job. But one tells me that Hunt is currently in ‘Leader of the House territory’. This source asks, ‘Can you have a Foreign Secretary who has called the Prime Minister a coward?’
Hunt’s decision to go negative means that he’ll need a strong showing in this contest to guarantee himself a big job in any Boris Johnson government.