HENRY DEEDES at the final Conservative Party leadership hustings

He waved a kipper at his audience and harrumphed: HENRY DEEDES watches Boris Johnson speaking like a Prime Minister-in-waiting at the final hustings

So here we are, chaps. This, as they say, is it. The final push, the last sprint before the finishing line. Next stop: Downing Street.

After four weeks, 16 hustings events, one television debate and umpteen media appearances, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson are now officially all campaigned out.

Last night was the contest’s denouement. The final showdown. Next Tuesday the ballot papers will be totted up and, at long last, we shall finally learn who will be the next Prime Minister.

The Tories had chosen for their final hustings the ExCel centre, a sprawling monstrosity in London’s Docklands unlikely to have ever troubled one of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s exhaustive architectural guides.

Talk is of a Boris Johnson landslide but speaking to members as they made their way into the vast auditorium at the London hustings, there was a healthy split over which way the votes were going

Talk is of a Boris landslide but speaking to members as they made their way into the vast auditorium, there was a healthy split over which way the votes were going.

Mark Malik, 28, said he was backing Hunt. ‘He answers the question and is honest. It was the hustings in Birmingham which changed my mind. He was very straight. He said ‘you’re not gonna like this but I back HS2, I back LGBT education in schools. Boris, there’s no leadership. All that bluster is funny at first but you soon get bored of it.’

Madeleine Brooks, 65, was opting for Boris. ‘We’ve enough fiddling about over Brexit and we need to leave and Boris is the man most likely to do it,’ she reasoned. ‘Jeremy is just too nice.’

On moderating duties was LBC presenter Iain Dale, who’s compered ten of these things over the summer already. How the poor man must dream of the salty tang of the Mediterranean in his nostrils.

Mark Malik, 28, said he was backing Jeremy Hunt at the hustings. ‘He answers the question and is honest. It was the hustings in Birmingham which changed my mind’

Boris won the toss and chose to bat first. He had asked to be introduced by Treasury Secretary Liz Truss, dressed in lollipop red. Should we read anything into this honorific? The Truss simply aches to be Chancellor.

‘Boris Johnson put London on the map,’ she announced, introducing the former mayor. Oh dear. Possible BoJo’s spin doctors neglected to give Truss’s remarks a quick once-over.

Johnson was introduced at the event by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss

The PM-in-waiting strode on stage wearing that befuddled look of man worried he’d left the gas on at home. He got a decent cheer, though by no means the sort of pant-wetting yelps he might have inspired four years ago.

We’ve become used to the theatrics and daft pop culture references.

‘We take this, we take that,’ he kept saying, nonchalantly sounding like a bachelor trying to master the washing machine.

There was tough talk on Jeremy Corbyn but what pleased the audience most was his insistence on leaving Europe on October 31.

By way of inspiration he had brought a vacuum-packed kipper. Brussels now demands all kippers must be sent with an ice pillow, presumably to keep it fresh. ‘Ridiculous!’ he harrumphed, holding the whiffy fish aloft. This didn’t quite provoke the rallying cry he might have hoped for.

Questions from the audience were friendly. We didn’t discover anything we hadn’t learned already.

Mr Dale asked if he dyed his hair. ‘Outrageous!’ Boris shouted, reflecting that this campaign really has now gone on quite long enough.

Jeremy Hunt arrived sleeves up, jazz hands, striding around the stage ready for action.

What a fantastic contest it had been, he mused. There was some feelgood stuff about how as Foreign Secretary he had seen how well-regarded the UK is around the world.

Jeremy Hunt arrived at the event sleeves up, jazz hands, striding around the stage ready for action

It was all characteristically modest, charming spiel. But presentation-wise he could have been salesman selling magic sponge squeegees at the Ideal Home exhibition.

There were warm words for Boris. He told Dale when they worked together on the Olympics when he was Culture Secretary, he left meetings with a smile face.

Did Mr Hunt sound beaten? I should say so. He made it clear he’d be honoured to serve in Boris’s cabinet. Worth pointing out Boris has been non-committal about offering him anything.

Hunt’s campaign has not been without errors but he has at least provided us with a contest, far more so than many expected. In that regard he has perhaps done the utmost the country could have asked of him.

Defeat will hurt him, of course. Here is a man whose career has almost exclusively known success. A former head boy turned millionaire who overturned a marginal seat before ascending quickly up politics’ greasy pole.

This time next week, one of these two men will be unpacking his jim-jams and preparing for his first night in Downing Street. It looks very likely the class swot will be beaten by the last-minute reviser.

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