Marmite man leads, but tomorrow’s man today is getting closer

Wednesday was a tale of two political campaign launches. 

Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary who twice won in Labour London, with a clear pitch for the top job: I’m the only one who can deliver Brexit and save you from Jeremy Corbyn.

“I know the London Labour left. I have studied their ways, I know who they are,” he told his audience laced with dozens of Conservative backers, as he set out his stall to replace Theresa May.

“We cannot let them anywhere near Downing Street. The last time, I would remind you, I faced an emanation of that cabal, I defeated him when the Conservatives were 17 points behind in London.”

And that is Mr Johnson’s core pitch. He’s the one in this race with stardust sprinkled on his tousled blond mane. He’s the ‘Heineken’ Conservative who reaches parts of the electorate other rivals can’t reach.

But enter a new pretender the the crown, outside bet Sajid Javid. Undoubtedly the candidate with the best backstory – Muslim son of an immigrant bus driver from Rochdale and self-made multi-millionaire – he told his colleagues that he was the future and Mr Johnson the past.

Sajid Javid says Boris Johnson is 'yesterday's news'
‘Boris Johnson is yesterday’s news’

“I’m tomorrow’s leader today,” said the home secretary. “I’m a change candidate. Boris Johnson is “yesterday’s news”.

“He’s been around in politics for a while, he’s achieved a lot, he’s still got a big role to play. But I think if we are trying to connect to the next generation and move forward as a country then I think it’s time for the next generation with a bold new agenda.”

Launching his campaign on the same day as the unassailable front runner Mr Johnson was a smart move by the Javid team.

He might not be able to beat him but he was at least able to challenge the notion that only Mr Johnson can save the Tories from electoral disaster, on the very day the party, and public, got a taster of how marmite Mr Johnson had become since the EU referendum.

Because for all the love and support in the room for Mr Johnson – and there was buckets of it on display with dozens of prominent MPs from both wings of the Conservative party cheering him on – there is an underbelly too of Conservative MPs and supporters deeply worried about what a Boris Johnson premiership looks like.

Johnson challenged over his character

Within the parliamentary party there is a thriving anti-Boris Johnson camp of ministers and MPs who are alarmed about his populist, incendiary language – describing veiled Muslim women as bank robbers and letterboxes the most obvious example – and sometimes cavalier approach to the gravest of matters.

British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is experiencing that first hand after the then foreign secretary’s misleading comments to MPs over her activities in Iran was leveraged by Tehran to lengthen her jail term.

He’s the one politician that provokes a reaction in all that he does – good and bad. Because what he says and does has an impact. MPs like to build him up or try to take him down. They text me with criticism and praise.

They also now pay close attention to his every move: On his big pitch day Sayeeda Warsi, the former chair of the Conservative party, texted me to see whether Mr Johnson had actually apologised for his comments on Muslim women “that led to them being targeted on our streets”.

His supporters hated him being asked about these remarks in the first place. His opponents were alarmed that he on the one hand finally apologised for “any offence caused” while insisting that he would continue to “speak as directly as I can. Because that is what I think the British people want to hear”.

It is undoubtedly the electoral appeal and easy charisma of Mr Johnson that has brought together a coalition of remain and leave Conservatives into his team. But don’t mistake this broad base of support in the parliamentary party as evidence that Mr Johnson is a unifier who will heal divisions.

His role in the EU referendum campaign makes him the Brexiteers’ darling but the Remainers’ foe. That is why Mr Johnson is more of a marmite figure these days.

Mr Javid knows this and is trying to pitch his tent in Mr Johnson’s spot, as the face of modern Britain and a modern Conservative party who can appeal to groups of voters turning their backs on the Tories – BAME voters, working class voters, younger voters.

All the polling on grassroots members website Conservative Home puts Mr Johnson leagues ahead of all his rivals with Tory party members. But what about the wider public? Does Mr Javid cut through where Mr Johnson does not – I’d like to see the polling on that.

In the short-term – whatever Mr Javid might say about the next Tory leader not just being for Brexit – the party needs and wants a politician who will deliver Brexit and defeat Mr Corbyn.

Mr Johnson has the track record, Mr Javid has the potential. In these dangerous days for the Conservative party, I know which one MPs – and members – are going to pick.

But Mr Javid made himself a little less of a long-shot at his launch today. He’s got the momentum going into the first round of voting today.

Even a few days ago, he was considered an also-ran, perhaps he’ll end up being the one really giving Mr Johnson a run for his money, if not now then soon.

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Political News – International and UK Politics | Sky News

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