As the leadership election heads towards the end of its phoney war and into the parliamentary phase, it has already begun to be clear how this will pan out over the next few weeks. Rory Stewart, one of the candidates, started his campaign by saying he would unite the Conservatives but in almost the same breath, trashing his unity bid he then went on to say he wouldn’t serve in a Boris Johnson government, if he won.
At first I thought this was a one off but I have changed my mind as I have watched different candidates and their official and unofficial spokesmen take aim at other candidates and fire. I say other candidates, yet it is clear that one candidate in particular is the real target and that is Boris Johnson.
I have not yet decided who I will support and will wait for all to declare before making my final choice. Yet I am concerned that this very negative theme, like an undercurrent flowing through this contest already, is our old friend, Project Fear.
In it, people attach their negative assumption about “no deal” to another candidate. In so doing they feel free to claim that dreadful consequences will follow. Nothing better illustrates this more than the charge that those who believe we should be prepared for no deal are irresponsible. Why? Because, they maintain, it is a fact that leaving without a deal will be a disaster so even to countenance that makes you irresponsible and thus unfit to be prime minister.
Having established this subjective analysis as fact, they are then at liberty to make the darkest threats possible, if such an event came to pass.
That is why the threat not to serve under Mr Johnson was made. Taking this theme further, I note the present Chancellor was on the media making an even more blood-curdling suggestion. By not ruling out voting against the party in a vote of confidence if the new prime minister was prepared to leave without a deal, he ensured Project Fear would be a critical part of the leadership election. Those who support such negative campaigning are busy justifying their actions by recourse to hand ringing protestations that they are guided only by principle. So, by deliberately failing to say he would vote with the Government in a vote of confidence, Mr Hammond was surely implying it would be the fault of those who voted the “wrong way” in the leadership contest, not him or others if the new leader lost.
He of course, is not alone. Some of the papers have uncovered a number of smear attempts aimed at Mr Johnson but in a sense, he has become a surrogate for any candidate who has the temerity to make the case that the UK must leave the EU, deal or no deal, by October 31. This much is clear, that from the outset there has been a coordinated attack plan based on fear and loathing.
It is ironic that this effort seems to be coming from the very people who preach endlessly that they want to unite the party and present a positive face to the electorate.