With the ballot papers out, the next few days will be crucial in the Tory leadership election. As I say in The Sun this morning, it is reckoned that 60 percent of party members will have voted by Thursday.
The Boris campaign are bullish. One very senior figure in the campaign is privately predicting that they will win by a more than twenty-point margin. The Hunt campaign is adamant that this isn’t right and that the contest is tightening every day. But interestingly, even several of his Cabinet supporters aren’t trying to claim that the race is close. One tells me, ‘Let’s face it, there isn’t must doubt about what the result is going to be.’
If Boris does win, he must remember Churchill’s dictum: In victory, magnanimity. It would be tempting for him to exact vengeance on his defeated opponents. But Boris must remember that even with a large mandate from party members, he’ll still be operating in a hung parliament and needs to keep his parliamentary party as together as possible.
Boris Johnson is right to insist that all members of his Cabinet sign up to his policy of leaving on October 31st come what may. The government will have to speak with one voice, and be able to carry parliament, if it is going to find out whether the Irish and the EU are prepared to compromise on the backstop to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. He doesn’t, though, need to open window into men’s souls. One Cabinet Minister wary of the October 31 pledge tells me that they’ll sign up to it with ‘our fingers crossed behind their backs’. As long as they stick to the line in public and do what is needed to prepare for no deal, that should be enough for Boris.
Those around Boris say that other Cabinet Ministers could learn from the enthusiasm with which Matt Hancock has embraced the project since dropping out of the leadership race. But a simple willingness to be loyal in public and private for as a long as he is Prime Minister should be sufficient. The Tory party doesn’t have enough talent to have, say, Michael Gove on the backbenches.
Boris Johnson must also be careful to ensure that his Cabinet doesn’t look factional. As one of those who knows the Tory parliamentary party best warns, if it does ‘there’ll be an equal and opposite reaction.’
This magnanimity must go both ways, though. Philip Hammond and other Cabinet Ministers who’ll be out as they won’t sign up to leaving on October 31st, must give Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan a chance to work. If they force on the government another delay, then there’ll be a general election which could well result in a Jeremy Corbyn government—and that would be far more damaging to the UK than the disruption of a no deal Brexit.