The received wisdom on the Tory leadership contest is that the party’s MPs, and indeed its members, are prepared to disregard his lack of suitability to even shovel shit from Heap A to Heap B and award the Top Job to London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. All other participants in the contest, therefore, may as well pack up and run along. That was, until Rory Stewart rocked up.
Stewart, who represents the sprawling constituency of Penrith and The Border, submitted himself to a light grilling by the host on The Andy Marr Show™ yesterday morning, and made a significant impression. He then went on the Channel 4 leadership candidates’ debate yesterday evening and once more acquitted himself well. Brave Bozza, by contrast, turned tail and ran at the prospect of Krishnan Guru-Murthy prodding him.
All of which has raised Stewart’s profile, with some senior Tories opting to back him, and the prospect of others rallying to his cause if he makes it through the next round of voting. This has spooked the Johnson campaign, and spooked it very obviously, the result being that Bozza’s cheerleaders, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, have begun a series of attack pieces against him.
After the Marr Show appearance came “Rory’s Bizarre Marr Interview” where it was claimed of Stewart “his core big idea is to bypass parliament” (it isn’t). There is the obligatory Fawkes mental health smear as readers are told “He’s in danger of joining the Brexit-driven descent into derangement”. Staines only knows one form of derangement, and that is the alcoholic kind (example with video HERE).
This morning has brought a Fawkes follow-up claiming “50% Of Tory Members Think Rory Would Make A Poor Leader”, making sure readers know “77% of Tory members think Boris would make a good leader … MPs backing Boris will be pleased to see that Tory voters agree with members. In fact Boris is the only candidate who commands a positive net approval rating … Rory is the only candidate who has a negative approval rating from Tory members”. All of which has led others to conclude that The Great Guido is rattled.
After the Fawkes Twitter feed declared “Rory tells #Marr he won't serve in a Boris cabinet, an hour later he tells Nigel Farage he wants to reach out to Nigel and ‘bring him in’. My working thesis is that Rory is crazy” came the pushback, with Jaki McCarrick responding “That’s nasty & transparently nasty too … What’s ‘crazy’ is allowing Boris Johnson to be PM”. Rob Stewart added “My hypothesis is you're a little scared”.
And Peter Oborne, who has some experience of observing leadership contests, was in no doubt not only about Staines’ status in the Johnson campaign, but also the reason for his attack on Stewart: “Boris Johnson's social media manager targeting Rory Stewart. Rattled?” Rattled is right: the worst case scenario for Bozza is that Stewart becomes the challenger and the membership ballot ends in a close finish.
Then he’d have a popular challenger refusing to serve in his cabinet, and all the while, as a back bencher, able to tell the world how he’d have done right all the things that Bozza was getting wrong. And he will get a lot wrong. Because he’s not up to the job.
But good of The Great Guido to admit he’s frit. Another fine mess, once again.
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