The polls show the leadership underdog Jeremy Hunt is gaining momentum, with 28 percent of the public believing he would be a good prime minister and a better Brexit negotiator with the EU, compared to 25 percent favouring Boris Johnson.
Dr. Ben Williams, a tutor in politics and political theory at the University of Salford has shared his view about the final round of the Tory leadership election and how its results could influence the Brexit process.
Sputnik: What can we expect from today’s debates, in your view?
Ben Williams: We’re moving towards the end of the leadership campaign now, which has been going on for a couple of weeks; we’re down to the last two candidates. This isn’t the final debate but we have the last few days now of debates between the final two candidates, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.
What we are going to be doing for the next couple of days is setting up the final pitch and message because ballot papers are starting to arrive as of tomorrow to the Conservative membership.
And so it is a really important time now to get their message across to offer a distinct message to their rival what they got to offer as prime minister and basically just trying to offer something different to what’s has gone before, and try and make themselves sound appealing and attractive compared to the other candidate.
So we are in the final push of the home stretch.
So it is important that both candidates try and get that message across to sell themselves to the voters, to the members of the Conservative party, who are going to decide who the next party leader is.
Sputnik: What can you say about Boris Johnson himself as a political figure? How will his character influence and shape British politics?
Ben Williams: All I mean Boris Johnson is a controversial figure. He is kind of loved and hated in equal amounts, is a more divisive figure. He has this image of a bit of a clown, a bit of a buffoon. A lot of people can’t take him seriously.
A lot of people don’t think he is a serious politician because he has got a background when he beyond television he has had a lot of comedy programmes and light talks on television in the past. So a lot of people who are critics of him don’t really take him seriously but on the other hand, he has always been very ambitious.
He has always made it quite clear he would like to be prime minister. In some way, he is something of a celebrity politician like Donald Trump. So it is an interesting development that he is in the frame to be prime minister.
And the key question is if he does become prime minister, a lot of people are sceptical of his actual political ability because he seems to be able to talk, he has this sort of charm, this personality that kind of makes everything quite humorous.
But a lot of people don’t think he is serious or credible and that includes a lot of people in his own party, and there are Conservatives who really don’t want him to be their party leader.
And if he did become leader he would have some problems in terms of, there’d be a lot of the country who would be hostile to him. And he has faced a lot of problems within his own party of Conservatives who don’t really think he is up to the job.
Sputnik: Boris Johnson himself is a popular but quite contradictory figure. Can we say there’s a fault line among the political elites and the British society regarding how Britain should be led?
Ben Williams: Yes, I mean I think parallels have been made with Donald Trump…they are both trying to chip into a kind of populist right-wing sort of nationalistic message. They both have got kind of celebrity background.
You know, obviously, there was a lot of scepticism: could Donald Trump win, and Donald Trump did win.
And there has been an ongoing question about whether he is up to the job, and what we are going to find out next year – obviously, it was a pre-election whether he will get re-elected.
I mean in terms of Boris Johnson, I mean Boris Johnson has got an issue that him becoming the leader of the Conservatives and then becoming prime minister is really just the first of many obstacles.
He is going to become prime minister and face a lot of the problems that Theresa May had.
And then he has got to get Brexit through Parliament and he has got no parliamentary majority to do it.
And that is why a lot of people are speculating that sooner or later and sooner rather than later Boris Johnson will probably have to call a general election and put himself to the people and ask the wider population to vote for him. And that is the real challenge.
Just as an example that Scotland, which is very unsettled at the moment because of Brexit and demands for independence, there has been some polling done in Scotland and Boris Johnson’s rating there is very, very negative.
And so he could face some major problems in keeping the actual United Kingdom together. He could face some major Brexit problems.
He could face some major problems in trying to get himself re-elected which is no easy task.
And if he did happen to get himself re-elected, he could then be faced with the situation where parts of the UK are significantly out of position to want to break away because of their hostility to his leadership.
Sputnik: In your opinion, who then will become the next Prime Minister from the remaining two candidates and why?
Ben Williams: In terms of the remaining two, obviously, Boris Johnson is the favourite. All the polling suggests he is the favourite; he is the best-known candidate.
He has got the best most established reputation you could say but his reputation is NOT always good as I have previously said. So it does look like Boris Johnson, however, we should add a note of caution.
Jeremy Hunt … has run an energetic campaign. He has been putting himself about across the country meeting Conservative Party Members, said the odd thing or two maybe that he shouldn’t do. Plus he has raised issues, he has generated debate….
And just this week he was talking about his chances and saying “yes, he is the underdog but don’t rule him out”. By contrast, Boris Johnson has been accused of going into hiding, of not meeting the media, not answering questions. So it is not inevitable. I mean it is in the hands of about a 160,000 Conservative Party Members.
And as I have already said, you know, if you were a betting man or woman, you would probably put your money on Boris Johnson.
But I think the consensus is that the gap between him and Hunt has narrowed and it is crucial –and over this next week when the ballot papers are going out – that both candidates get their message across to try and win over these wavering Conservative Members who have yet to make their minds up.
Sputnik: How will the Brexit negotiations develop if Boris Johnson will be elected eventually?
Ben Williams: Yes, I mean this has been an issue that has been the subject of much debate between the candidates.
I mean both of the candidates are on record of saying they want just to leave the EU as soon as possible and ideally in time for 31 October deadline.
If there is a distinction, I mean Boris Johnson has been more hardline, Boris Johnson is a Brexiteer having said that “we will leave on the 31 whether we get a deal or not” and that has a certain appeal to certain voters, to certain members of the Conservatives. However, I mean Jeremy Hunt is a bit more cautious, he too has said: “we should leave”.
But I think there are some people who look at Hunt and say: “Well, Jeremy Hunt was a Remainer originally”.
He seems that he accepts the referendum as also he wants to deliver Brexit. But he has also vindicated that no deal is really not desirable, and if no deal is looking likely then he would possibly be willing to consider a further extension if it meant getting Brexit over the line at some point. So he appeared to be a bit more pragmatic, a bit more cautious.
Boris Johnson is a bit more robust, a bit more aggressive about getting Brexit.
The key issue is how well either of them engages in diplomacy. Now interestingly both of them have held the role of Foreign Secretary in recent years. And Hunt is currently the current Foreign Secretary.
Johnson has been Foreign Secretary before Hunt before he resigned last year. And there is a lot of speculations about who would you want to be negotiating Britain’s position in the EU.
And I think although Johnson is the favourite, I think there is a growing feeling that Hunt is perhaps the best negotiator, Hunt is perhaps the better diplomat.
And so, although Johnson takes a more hardline position on Brexit, it may be that some people think that Jeremy Hunt could negotiate the best deal and is the more experienced diplomat in dealing with the EU.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.