The Tory leadership contest drags on, and a semblance of reality still eludes it. The two candidates have apparently found the magic money tree that Theresa May never successfully tracked down, with both making yet more promises today. Desperate to be taken seriously by hard Brexiteers despite refusing to commit to an October 31st deadline, Jeremy Hunt is unveiling a 10-point plan for no deal involving preparations costing £20bn.
Boris Johnson, meanwhile, will skip a head-to-head debate on Sky News tonight and has got Matt Hancock doing the media rounds for him this morning. The Health Secretary, hoping to be the next Chancellor, is selling the idea that Johnson will “show the public sector some love” and boost pay.
We’ve got another few weeks until this fairly absurd contest is over. And however much Hunt gets supporters like Liam Fox to lend their Brexiteer credentials to his campaign, the Tory membership is fully expected to pick Johnson. Unless he is allowed to renege on his “do or die” October 31st promise, an early election looks likely. What can Labour members do to prepare?
Momentum have an idea. They are launching a new ‘Unseat Boris’ campaign with the aim of making Johnson the first Prime Minister to lose his seat in a general election. It is hoped that mass canvassing sessions and a clever social media drive could reduce the Tory majority in Uxbridge and South Ruislip from just over 5,000 to zero. In these times of four-party politics, voting intention data and activist mobilisation is key, and Momentum reckons it can help Labour candidate Ali Milani pull a stunning victory out of the bag using those tools – just as they did in Peterborough.
Labour does these things better than any other party, with superb get-out-the-vote operations across the country. But the membership is dejected at the moment; the overwhelmingly energy and excitement that played a role in growing Labour’s vote share by nearly 10% at the 2017 snap election is not on display. It could resurface by itself once the prospect of beating Boris Johnson becomes immediate, but interminable infighting over Brexit and antisemitism is undoubtedly a hindrance.
Shadow cabinet members and key allies of Jeremy Corbyn are increasingly vocal about the need to put both of the internal rows to rest, and they are willing to apply pressure publicly. Over the weekend, Angela Rayner said she was “embarrassed” by the events surrounding Chris Williamson’s disciplinary case (the whip has now been re-withdrawn), while John McDonnell said he was frustrated by the lack of movement on Brexit.
Could the next couple of weeks see a change in direction? Labour’s ruling body will review the Derby MP’s case and the Labour leader is expected to come back with a decision on ‘Remain’ following further consultations. The underlying reluctance will be felt, however, even if the shifts take place. It’s difficult to see these issues not being fought over at conference, but perhaps a Johnson premiership can concentrate minds.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.