Boris Johnson was elected as Prime Minister last week. This result prompted a somewhat uncharacteristic eruption of effluence to pour forth from Lincoln’s pre-eminent Liberal Democrat campaigner, Caroline Kenyon.
Mr. Johnson secured 92,153 votes or two-thirds of the votes cast, whilst Mr. Hunt secured 46,656 and has returned to the backbenches. In 2017, at the General Election, Theresa May, Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, secured just 37,718 votes and went on to become Prime Minister. Apparently this lacks democracy. I wonder if for Caroline democracy is only democracy if people are voting for what she wants them to be voting for?
I recognise his legitimately as our Prime Minister. Yes, elected on this occasion by members of the Conservative Party, but nevertheless elected. Elected in a contest that was open to public scrutiny: How many hustings events were held? How many television debates broadcast? I lost count, certainly enough to ensure that whoever emerged as the winner had undergone thorough public scrutiny. Not like the old days when these things were stitched up behind closed doors.
Caroline justified her position by trotting out clichéd stereotypes of what a Tory member looks like. But real insight can be gained from The Party Members Project (PMP), a research initiative by Queen Mary University of London and the University of Sussex, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. With the help of polling firm YouGov, it has been surveying members of the main parties since 2015.
The project’s research has found that around 97% of the Conservative Party’s members are white (compared to 96% for the Liberal Democrats). And yes, Caroline is right that the Conservative Party’s members are slightly older (average age 57) than her party’s members (average 52). However, the Conservatives have a marginally broader social base (86% ABC1s) compared to the Liberal Democrats (88% ABC1s).
What does that all mean? That your average Liberal Democrat is more privileged than your average Conservative and your average Briton.
For some in the Liberal Democrats the UK’s membership of the European Union has become an article of faith. Simply by believing in it and being part of it everything will miraculously work out for the best. If wishes were horses. Love or loath Brexit it was the decision of the people, in a properly organised and lawful referendum. Leave won by being over a million votes ahead of Remain. I wonder if Caroline accepts that result? I suspect not. Yet if it had been one vote in Remain’s favour would that be a different matter?
Caroline goes on to describe Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister as a ‘coup’. Did I miss the tanks rolling down Whitehall and the people fleeing as bullets were fired? No. Apart from a half dozen or so environmentalists it was a smooth and orderly transition. The same sort of transition as when Theresa May became Prime Minister – and let’s not forget that she was only chosen as the ‘last-man-standing’ (after Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the contest) by 329 Conservative MPs.
In continuing her assassination attempt of our new Prime Minister, Caroline moves on to his personal qualities. We all know that ‘Boris is Boris’ as David Cameron used to tell us when he’d made some gaffe or caused offense. However, after the past three years of the relentless drip, drip, drip of being told that ‘the Maybot had to go’ because she was too robotic, too inhuman it is particularly interesting to see someone, who is as human as they come, being criticised for their own flawed humanity. And a cautionary tale as ever that we should all be careful what we wish for.
She takes us on a tour of the current tropes deployed against Mr. Johnson; too well used to be of interest in rebutting me thinks on this occasion. Before we turn to the left’s favourite attack against the right — money. Unremarkably, Mr. Johnson is able to secure donations from the rich (and of course the reason Caroline knows about these sums is because they have to be declared). Through her omission of the requirements for disclosure of these donations she perpetuates the fallacy that our politics is corrupt. It is not. We are enormously fortunate to live in a country that is properly governed. A country largely free from corrupt practices.
I started the leadership contest backing Jeremy Hunt. But as his policies were made clear, I found I struggled to agree with them. Boris Johnson on the other hand presented a number of policy positions I could easily support. And so halfway through the campaign, I asked a friend, on his staff, for five minutes at the LGA Conference in Bournemouth. Boris persuaded me that his responses to several questions that had been put to him were his – I slightly suspected they might be well crafted responses by his team. I was impressed. I think he has every potential to be a great Prime Minister. Brexit is the only real obstacle to him delivering a brighter future for Britain.
Finally, it is four months on from the end of March when we were supposed to leave. As a local councillor, who faced the public’s anger in the local elections in early May, I have heard their message. It hasn’t changed. It never changes. It remains: ‘We want politicians to deliver on the promises they make.’ We all know what happened to the Liberal Democrats when they dropped their opposition to abolishing student tuition fees; they dropped in the polls like a stone. We all saw the rise of the Brexit Party and collapse in support for both Labour and the Conservatives at the European Elections in late June – a kicking to the two main parties who have failed to honour their promises to deliver on the instruction of the British people: to deliver Brexit.
Caroline is wrong to attack Boris Johnson for his many flaws. We need kinder, gentler politics more than ever. It would be much better to pause and then pounce on any promises he does not deliver.
So, for all Caroline’s bellicose, Mr. Johnson is her Prime Minister. He has made it clear that with him at the helm, every sinew will be strained to ensure we leave at the end of October. Ideally with a revised deal which has alternative arrangements for the northern Irish border. But if Brussels and the EU27 are unwilling to move on this issue then we leave without a deal.
— Giles McNeill is the Conservative Leader of West Lindsey District Council