When Jeremy Hunt was announced as the candidate who would join Boris Johnson in the final two for the Tory leadership contest members’ vote, there were cheers amongst members of the Johnson camp. The view was that, unlike Gove, Hunt would prove a gentle opponent who Boris would have little bother shrugging off. However, after a weekend of bad headlines for the former mayor of London involving a late night incident with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, that theory can now be called into question.
Johnson refused at the first membership hustings to say why police were called to Symonds’s flat in the early hours of Friday. While that refusal went down fine with the members assembled, it has since been criticised by various MPs. Critics have been quick to use the incident as a way to ask questions about Johnson’s character. For the third day in a row, the papers have splashed with various theories on the state of both Johnson’s campaign and relationship. Few are positive.
Going in to the contest, it seemed that the only person who could mess up Boris Johnson’s campaign was Boris Johnson. Johnson’s behaviour has meant the Foreign Secretary is now able to capitalise on his troubles. He has said he has no interest in Johnson’s private life but thinks it’s important to face scrutiny in general – suggesting Johnson is not at present. In this vein, he has embarked on a media blitz since Friday and has penned an editorial for the Times calling on Johnson to take part in this week’s Sky debate:
‘The first debate that Boris has been invited to will be on Sky News tomorrow evening. I’ll be there. So don’t be a coward Boris, man up and show the nation you can cope with the intense scrutiny the most difficult job in the country will involve.’
This morning on Good Morning Britain, Hunt said:
‘I promised Boris Johnson the fight of his life, and he’s going to have that and he’s going to lose as well because he’s not prepared to answer questions on the basic things he is going to do.’
While it’s clear that Johnson is sill the favourite to be selected by the Tory membership, this is not how any of Boris’s strategists would have envisioned their campaign looking four days into the membership stage. It may not be enough to change the end result, but if things keep going this way, Johnson could damage his standing in the process of the contest.