Thursday 30 June 2016 – Brexit aftermath: Boris Johnson makes a shock withdrawal from the Conservative Party leadership election

Boris Johnson made a shock announcement today that he would not be standing as a  contender to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and by default the next Prime Minister following David Cameron’s decision to resign in October. In a video statement he said that had consulted with colleagues and had looked at the situation in the Commons and, as a result, he would not be the next Prime Minister. Basically I think he has realised that he is not especially popular among Tory MPs and knows that he cannot get selected as one of the two candidates to be put to the final vote by the Party’s membership. He may be popular in the membership but he has to be chosen by his colleagues before the membership get a vote. With heavyweights Theresa May and Michael Gove in the race it seems that Johnson has realised that Tory MPs are likely to select these two to be the official candidates.  The deadline for MPs putting themselves forward has expired today and the five candidates in the running are:

 

THERESA MAY – HOME SECRETARY – AGED 59

theresa may

Theresa May is seen as a tough and shrewd politician and has been praised for her “unflappable” handling of the Home Office – often thought to be a poisoned chalice in Whitehall. She is the most experienced of the candidates and says that the country needs a prime minister who can unite the country. Despite being a Eurosceptic she chose to support the Remain campaign and, as the longest-serving Interior Minister in Europe she has bee influential. She secured an agreement for a Europe-wide database of passenger information for all flights in and out of Europe. She has also  previously worked in Europe as a lobbyist. She may have voted to Remain in the EU but she differs with Europe on many things.

 

She is strongly in favour of severing the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and believes that there is “close to zero” benefit of mass immigration into the UK, with it placing unsustainable impact on schools, housing and hospitals. Under Cameron she tried to reduce net migration but failed. She was criticised for her “Go Home” posters on vans, her hard line on Syrian refugees  and her claim that mass migration was a threat to the cohesion of the UK.  She blames the EU for blocking her attempts to increase deportations from the UK. This stems from her long and humiliating attempts to deport the radical preacher Abu Qatada. He was eventually deported to Jordan.

 

She has been the longest-serving Home Secretary in a century and crime has continued to fall under her tenure. She has introduced major reform to policing and has challenged the police over its use of “stop and search” and on their handling of the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989. She introduced Police Commissioners, cut Whitehall funding for the police grants by 20% and has curbed the power of the Police Federation. She has made priorities of issues around rape and abuse, particularly against women. She set up the Goddard Inquiry into historical child sex abuse and an inquiry into undercover policing. She  tackled the scandal around the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. She is seen as being prepared to challenge entrenched vested interests in the police. May has taken a controversial stance on civil liberties. In response to the Edward Snowdon leaks of GCHQ’s activities she introduced the investigatory powers Bill to extend snooping powers to include web browsing. She also scrapped Labour’s plans for ID cards.

 

In 2013 she announced that she suffers from Type 1 Diabetes. She has kept relatively quiet in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and was a strong chance to emerge as a “stop Boris” candidate.

 

MICHAEL GOVE – JUSTICE SECRETARY – AGED 48

michael gove

A supporter of Brexit, Gove has maintained respect from both Leave and Remain campaigners in the Tory Party. He played a key role in the party’s “modernisation” prior to the 2010 General Election and is regarded as intellectual heavyweight in the party. He is a former journalist. He now says that the British people “want and need a new approach to running this country.”. He was a strong supporter of Boris Johnson becoming leader, but has dramatically changed his opinion – now say saying he doesn’t believe Johnson has the necessary leadership skills to lead the country. His damning character reference of Boris Johnson today played a major role in Boris Johnson deciding to withdraw from the leadership race. In the past, however, he has limited his personal ambitions and said that he was not equipped to be prime minister. It seems that events since the Brexit vote and his change of opinion on Johnson have changed his mind. He said:

“I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be prime minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me […] I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership. In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”

He takes a tough stance on immigration warning that Turkey joining the EU would constitute a “direct and serious threat” to public services in the UK. However, he said that Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster during the EU referendum campaign “made me shudder”. Gove supports an Australian-style points system for immigrants. In his support for Leave he emphasised Britain’s links beyond the EU: of Britain “taking its place alongside  countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and America as  a self-governing democracy.” His four-year tenure as Education Secretary did little to address his concerns of pressures on schools due to population change.  As Justice Secretary he has introduced a “radical” programme of prison reform to tackle the crisis in the jails. His prison reforms won praise from liberal reformers but has failed to deliver significant progress on violence in prisons and has not taken measures to cut inmate numbers. He did overturn bans on books for prisoners and ending UK contracts with Saudi Arabia against Foreign Office opposition.

 

Gove could be described as a “hawk” when it comes to counter-extremism. He wrote a book called Celsius 7/7  (2006) following the 2005 London Bombings, warning of a “widespread reluctance to acknowledge the real scale and nature of the Islamist threat […] and the failure to scrutinise, monitor or check the actions, funding and operation of those committed to spreading the Islamist word in Britain.”  He blamed Theresa May’s Home Office for a failure to “drain the swamp” in relation to Islamic extremists in Birmingham’s schools (the so-called “Trojan Horse” plot to increase the influence of extremist Islam in the city’s schools).   Gove, nevertheless, has continued to help delay Home Office counter-extremism laws. He also opposed ID cards.

 

Gove favours a “British bill of rights” that would curb the power of the European courts of human rights and justice, especially in relation to the charter on fundamental rights. This was of course before the Brexit vote which has thrown all potential EU laws into question as Britain will have to decide which to keep, abolish or introduce their own version of. Gove’s bill of rights varies little, so far, from the Human Rights Act. Gove wants the UK to be outside the European Single Market despite warnings of economic disruption to the UK. He is seen as favouring a so-called “Brexit max”. He has had little to do on the European stage in his Cabinet positions  beyond sometimes attending council of ministers meetings as Justice Secretary.

 

STEPHEN CRABB – WORK AND PENSIONS SECRETARY – AGED 43

stephen crabb

Stephen Crabb has launched a joint bid with Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary. He was born in Scotland and was a former Welsh Secretary. He grew up on a council estate by a single mother who depended on benefits. He has said this upbringing has given him an appreciation of the value of work, education and, in his case, his Christian faith – all leading to promoting self-reliance and economic independence. He supported the UK remaining in the EU and wants to use his campaign to “heal the bad blood” caused in the Tory party by the referendum.

 

LIAM FOX – FORMER DEFENCE SECRETARY – AGED 54

liam fox

Liam Fox resigned from Cameron’s Cabinet in 2011 following a lobbying scandal when he was shown to be in breach of the ministerial code over his relationship with his friend and self-styled adviser Adam Werrity. Fox  had previously come third in the leadership election in 2005 that saw David Cameron lead the party. He strongly supported Brexit but has since called for unity in the party. Before Johnson withdrew from the race, Fox  was seen as a less divisive choice over Johnson. Liam Fox is a former GP.

 

ANDREA LEDSOM – FORMER JUNIOR MINISTER – AGED 53

andrea leadsom

Andrea Leadsom is a former banker and district councillor. She has only been an MP since 2010 and has served as a junior Treasury Minister and as a member of the Treasury Select Committee. She became a Junior Minister  in the Energy and Climate Change Department in 2015.  She was a star of the Leave campaign and was said to have given a “composed performance”  as part of the Leave TV debating team. She is running on a desire to make the most of the “Brexit opportunies.”


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I was overjoyed – if deeply surprised –  this morning to see that Boris Johnson (pictured after his press conference) had withdrawn his name from the leadership election. It seemed to me that he had spent the last few years – from his decision to run for London Mayor, and his decision to get back into the House of Commons – plotting  to make a grab for the role of Prime Minister. It is no secret he has desired the job since childhood and that he was disappointed, at least, that his Oxford colleague David Cameron – who is younger than Johnson  – beat him to Number 10.  For this reason alone I was amazed that he had withdrawn. Boris has spent many years creating a carefully-constructed image as a loveable, comical figure – which he has cleverly used to disguise his real self. Beyond the bumbling behaviour, Johnson is a deeply ambitious man with a strong desire to succeed. In my opinion he is also deeply unsuited to be an MP – let alone Prime Minister. He has a recorded history of lying – such as to Michael Howerd, then Tory leader, over his extra-martial affairs. He has a history of  backtracking on promises – such as running for office while working for the Spectator or for seeking a House of Commons seat while still London Mayor.  He also has a reputation as being ineffective in office.  His predecessor as Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, once thought Boris was a formidable opponent – which he was when he defeated Livingstone. But Livingstone has been extremely critical of Johnson, describing him as “the most hardline right-wing ideologue since Thatcher.” Livingstone criticised Johnson’s time as Mayor as one of inertia, and gives a stark insight into how he would be as Prime Minister:

“He hasn’t really done anything. He’s stopped all projects that weren’t committed except the bike scheme. Except for the cable car to nowhere, he hasn’t initiated any new projects. He hasn’t set a right-wing agenda. Those right-wing Tories who think he’s going to be the answer will be acutely disappointed. If he did ever become prime minister, the country would just drift. For Boris, it’s just being there, not what you do with it.”

This lack of confidence in Johnson’s actual abilities  is no doubt shared among his Tory colleagues. This is almost certainly the true reason behind his withdrawal from the Conservative leadership election today. Once his once close ally, Michael Gove, turned on him Johnson must have realised just how little support or confidence  in him he has among fellow Tory MPs. Perhaps they, like many in the country, see Johnson as being far from  suitable or ready to become Prime Minister.  Johnson today spoke of how he will now focus on the aftermath of Brexit. He will undoubtedly remain a vocal part of British politics in the years to come, and will continue to entertain with his antics – but let’s hope that today’s setback for Johnson will confine him to the backbenches. It seems unlikely that he could secure a Cabinet position, but I may be wrong.  Nevertheless, I hope that we, never again see him aspire to be in charge of the countr … but don’t be surprised if one day he does what he did with the European Referendum: exploit an extraordinary situation to the maximum to emerge, for a while, as the clear favourite to be Prime Minister.

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