Well, that was a spectacular waste of everybody’s time. Not just because the one and only debate between the two final contenders for the Conservative Party leadership descended into a farcical shouting match, but because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because the vast majority of Tory members have already voted, so even if there is some unlikely constituency of people who are now deeply regretting voting for Boris Johnson, their best bet is to scream into a pillow (I certainly want to).
Hunt won, obviously, by any proper objective standards regarding what debates are supposed to look like. But this was not a serious debate, and we have long seized to be a serious country. On several occasions when Johnson shouted over his opponent and the moderator, the audience actually applauded him.
I was reminded of the Labour debates from the summer of 2016 when Owen Smith launched his suicidal charge against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Hunt is very much like Owen Smith, an impeccably polished, dreadfully boring politician who stands no chance against the idiot beloved by his party’s grassroots. It didn’t matter then, and doesn’t matter now, how many questions the latter dodged or how badly general election polling looked for them.
The first half of the debate was about Brexit. Both candidates expressed confidence in their ability to leave the European Union with a freshly negotiated deal before or on the 31st of October, which is literally impossible unless either of them has figured out time travel. Boris Johnson still believes that the EU will give him the deal he wants if only his bluff regarding no-deal is convincing, to which the appropriate response is – why you are saying this out loud on national television?
What should be noted is that, on the fundamental questions, the two technically agree. Both want to renegotiate Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, both want to remove the Irish backstop, and both say they are prepared to leave with no-deal if that’s what it comes to. The problem for Jeremy Hunt on the third point is that no one actually believes him.
A more general problem for Hunt is that, even though his positions are overall more popular with the general public, such as firm scepticism of no-deal prospects, and while I do believe he would perform better in a general election, those are not the views held by the majority of Conservative Party members.
This debate only confirmed what any reasonable person should have already known, that Boris Johnson is no more fit to be Prime Minister than he was to serve as Foreign Secretary. That he is a global laughing stock which no one among our international partners takes seriously, that he will say anything he needs to get the top job and that, whether Remain or Leave, you have absolutely no cause at all to trust him. If we were still a serious country, Johnson would still be writing garbage for the Daily Telegraph and playing a buffoon at after-dinner speeches in front of the world’s elite. But we are not, so he will almost certainly become our next Prime Minister. God help us when he does.
Photos by BackBoris2012 Campaign Team and Howard Lake on Flickr.