Boris will be next Tory leader, says Lord He­sel­tine

Western Mail - - NEWS - SAM LIS­TER news­desk@waleson­

BORIS John­son will be­come Tory leader but the move is likely to di­vide the party, Lord He­sel­tine has said.

The for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter said the slew of re­cent neg­a­tive head­lines that have dogged Mr John­son have not done him ir­repara­ble harm.

But Guto Harri, a key for­mer ad­viser to Mr John­son, said he was “dig­ging his po­lit­i­cal grave” and would be a “hugely di­vi­sive fig­ure” if he took the top job.

The for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary faced a Tory back­lash over his claim that Theresa May’s Brexit strat­egy had put the UK in a “sui­cide vest” and handed the det­o­na­tor to Brus­sels.

Swansea-born Lord He­sel­tine, who has been an out­spo­ken critic of Mr John­son, told BBC Ra­dio 4’s The Week In West­min­ster: “Has he done him­self any ir­repara­ble harm? Well I don’t think he has.

“What you have to say to your­self is who the Tory Party mem­ber­ship of the House of Commons is go­ing to choose to send to the ac­tivists of the Con­ser­va­tive Party in any lead­er­ship cam­paign.

“Whilst there is strong op­po­si­tion to Boris, I find it dif­fi­cult to think of two names that they will send that don’t in­clude him.

“And, if he gets be­fore the ac­tivists, my guess is that he will get the nom­i­na­tion.

“All that is one thing. But if you then ask a sec­ond ques­tion. Does that unify the party? Does that solve Brexit? Does it get Bri­tain back into the cen­tre ground.

“Those are the key ques­tions about achiev­ing power and my doubts and reser­va­tions are very sub­stan­tial.”

Mr Harri, who was Mr John­son’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor when he was Lon­don mayor, said his for­mer boss was do­ing “enor­mous dam­age” to him­self with his in­creas­ingly con­tro­ver­sial use of lan­guage, which has al­ways been “very cal­cu­lated”.

He told the pro­gramme: “I fear that Boris is dig­ging. Some­body needs to take the spade out of his hand or it looks to me like he’s dig­ging his po­lit­i­cal grave.

“It’s one thing to de­ploy hu­mour and charm and in­tel­lect and all th­ese things he has in spades which he has done bril­liantly in the past, not least his ex­quis­ite gift of lan­guage.

“But at the mo­ment it is be­ing de­ployed in a re­ally de­struc­tive and self-de­struc­tive way that I think is do­ing enor­mous dam­age to him as well as to the coun­try.

“Peo­ple al­ways said he shot from the hip and used lan­guage loosely or gaffed. It was al­ways very cal­cu­lated.

“It was just cal­cu­lated in a very, very clever way in the past. Over a pe­riod of time, Boris did move from celebrity to states­man and did widen his ap­peal enor­mously.

“He was a huge uni­fy­ing fig­ure by the end of my time with him when the Olympics hap­pened in Lon­don.

“There were peo­ple on left and right. He would not have been re­elected in a left lean­ing city like Lon­don if he hadn’t ap­pealed to the left. Now he’s gone the other way. He’s be­come more tribal, and tribal within the tribe, so that he would now be – if he were to be­come leader – a hugely di­vi­sive fig­ure.

“And that for some­body who is equipped to be a uni­fy­ing fig­ure, who’s equipped to cre­ate a feel­good fac­tor, who’s equipped to take us all on what­ever jour­ney be­cause he makes it fun, he makes it ex­cit­ing and he is a true vi­sion­ary.”

Mr John­son has also faced in­tense news­pa­per cov­er­age over re­ports link­ing him with ex-Tory com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Car­rie Sy­monds af­ter it was an­nounced he and his wife are to di­vorce.

> Lord He­sel­tine

> Boris John­son

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