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Would a Boris premiership open the doors to a LibDem resurgence?

PUBLISHED: 05:30 06 June 2019

Boris Johnson remains clear favourite in the race to be new Tory leader - but can he really attract floating voters? Picture: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire

Boris Johnson remains clear favourite in the race to be new Tory leader - but can he really attract floating voters? Picture: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire

The contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party has become a tiny bit clearer as MPs return to Westminster after their Whitsun Recess following James Cleverly's sensible decision not to stand - but it still looks like something of a mess.

Suffolk Coastal Liberal Democrat Julia Ewart. Picture: SUFFOLK COASTAL LIBERAL DEMOCRATSSuffolk Coastal Liberal Democrat Julia Ewart. Picture: SUFFOLK COASTAL LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Boris Johnson is still favourite to move into 10 Downing Street at the end of July, and I'm not brave enough to disagree with the idea that he is way out in the lead among Conservative activists.

Those I have spoken to all seem to be backing him conditionally or unconditionally - largely because they think he is the one candidate who can reach out to the voters and deliver them a General Election victory when the time comes.

Many have doubts. I've been told some would not trust him, they're not sure what he would do when the chips are down, and they don't really understand what his political philosophy is (apart from a burning desire to be Prime Minister).

But they see him as a winner.

After two elections as London mayor they see him as the "Heineken candidate" - one who can reach the parts other people cannot.

However after being asked about the leadership by people who are not, or at least are no longer, Conservative activists, I am starting to wonder whether Mr Johnson is really the asset that some seem to think.

At the Suffolk Show I came across several business people (largely linked in some way to agriculture) who are really, really worried about Mr Johnson - and said to me that they would vote for anyone BUT him.

His comments about business last year struck a chord (I'm certainly not going to repeat what he said!), meaning that many see him as very much an anti-business candidate.

Brexit is an issue that many people running small businesses continue to be worried about - and suggestions that it might be acceptable to come out without a deal to meet the October 31 deadline leave them cold.

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After the results of the European election, which saw a marked improvement for the Liberal Democrats, I'm starting to wonder if the Tory Party could come under attack from them in the centre as well as the Brexit Party on the right at the next General Election.

Whether that will happen in Suffolk, though, is a different subject. The county's LibDems have always been a pretty lame bunch when it comes to fighting General Elections.

They always leave selecting candidates to the last minute - and then the activists disappear to Colchester, Cambridge or North Norfolk for the duration while the campaign is under way.

But I do wonder if things might change next time - especially in the Suffolk Coastal constituency.

Their LibDems have actually selected a candidate well in advance of the likely election date, and Julia Ewart is putting herself about a bit in the political world.

In the past Suffolk Coastal hasn't been particularly great for the party, there are only an handful of councillors there, but it had the smallest pro-Brexit vote in the county in 2016 and the concern about business links with the continent is probably stronger there than anywhere else in the county.

If Ms Ewart continues to make her voice heard, then come the next election Conservative Dr Therese Coffey would be wise to be as aware of the threat from the centre as she will be from the Brexiteers!

But we still don't know who will be leading the Conservatives by then. Mrs May doesn't formally stand down as Tory Party leader until tomorrow and the campaign doesn't formally start among MPs until next week.

I expect more candidates to follow James Cleverly's example and withdraw their candidacy - and to end up with about six series candidates vying for MPs votes: Mr Johnson, Dominic Rabb, Jeremy Hunt, Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, and Matt Hancock.

I don't think party activists will support anyone who supported Remain in 2016, but what about the "silent" party members?

These are all issues that MPs will have to weigh up - but I suspect many will feel the wrath of their activists if they try to keep Mr Johnson off the final two that members will vote on.

Which all goes to convince me that Mr Johnson will probably become the new Prime Minister . . . but I'm far from convinced that he has the support in the country that his backers believe and I think he'll have a tough fight in a future general election when he might find out that the country isn't as right wing and Eurosceptic as his supporters think!

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