What does the Boris coronation mean for Government?
First thing this morning, Camp Boris was quietly confident of victory. Internal polling conducted this week was positive, very positive.
Turnout was very high – 87 per cent. And 500 spoilt ballot papers. Emotions had also run high during this contest – a fact that was acknowledged by one of the returning officers. Charles Walker MP pleaded for MP colleagues to be kinder to the next Prime Minister than they had been to Theresa May, who tomorrow will appear at her valedictory PMQs, before leaving Downing Street for the last time.
In the event, expectations were delivered, with Boris securing just over 66 per cent of the vote. A convincing enough victory for him to pretty much start with a clean slate with regards to the Cabinet and reshuffle of Government ministers that now commences. The trickle of ministerial resignations (the ‘jumps-before-they-are-pushed’) have started – with Justice Secretary David Gauke, Business and Industry Secretary Greg Clark and Chancellor Philip Hammond pre-emptively retiring themselves from Government.
Boris was quick to praise his fellow leadership contender, Jeremy Hunt. Having secured over 30 per cent of the vote, Boris would be wise to keep him in play around the Cabinet table. Raab, Gove and Sajid Javid will all secure senior positions. Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt is the subject of some debate; she wasn’t a Boris backer by any stretch of the imagination. But the headache for Boris would be to sack the first woman to hold that particular post.
James Cleverly is surely destined for Party Chairman (remember there is no love lost between the current one, Brandon Lewis and Boris – the former having taken the latter to task over his column which referred to women in burkas in less than flattering terms). Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd’s ‘pivot’ a couple of weeks ago regarding her willingness to countenance a No Deal Brexit seems to have saved her bacon, with odds on her staying in post.
On which subject, Boris has promised to Deliver Brexit, and also Unite the country, Defeat Jeremy Corbyn and Energise Britain (‘DUDE’ being the punchline). That first one remains… tricky. Even with the redoubtable Nikki Da Costa joining his team in Number Ten to run the whipping operation and work out how to get Brexit through Parliament, the reality of the numbers remains pretty dismal for the Government.
Boris’ father did an admirable job keeping his sunny disposition broadcasting from College Green in the immediate aftermath of the result of the leadership contest, despite some lively chants by bystanders of ‘Shove your Brexit up your *rse’. Will his son display similarly dogged determination between now and the 31st of October (the date for exiting the EU) if the country is to avoid another repeat of the indecision, prevarication and political stasis that did for Theresa May?
Of course, the other big question Boris has to answer is whether he goes for a General Election to break the deadlock over Brexit. Conservative Campaign Headquarters is eying such a prospect with very little enthusiasm, and yet is planning on the basis of a snap election in the autumn. With Labour trailing dismally in the polls, could indeed Boris yet triumph in every sense where Theresa May failed?
Amy Fisher is a Director in MHP’s Public Affairs team. Prior to joining MHP, Amy worked as a Special Adviser in three government departments and most recently as Director of External Affairs, Outreach and Special Projects at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.