Davis wins easily...

newstatesman.com's running commentary on the by-election triggered then won by David Davis over 42 d

1030BST


So David Davis now has a majority of 15,355 votes. And to think he was a candidate for "decapitation" in the last election, writes Martin Bright.

With a turnout of 34 per cent, it would be tempting to agree with Home Office minister Tony McNulty that this was "a vain stunt that became and remains a farce". Although his majority increased by over 10,000 votes, Davis still had fewer people voting for him than did in 2001.

This was not a great day for democracy. Congratulations to Shan Oakes of the Green Party for coming second with 1,758, but the Labour Party, and especially the Lib Dems, made a serious mistake by not standing. For Labour, the hope was to render Davis's gesture meaningless. In part, they succeeded. But this did not split the Conservative Party, as they might have expected. The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, could have taken the genuinely liberal argument to Davis rather than giving him a free run. They might even have won.

Weirdly, the Conservatives look by far the most sure-footed party as a result of all this. It could have been a very difficult moment for David Cameron. Instead, he has the best of both worlds - Davis is allowed to make the argument for "ancient British values" while at the same time removing himself from frontline politics where he was becoming an increasing thorn in the Tory leader's side. David Cameron must be feeling even more smug than usual this morning.


0700BST


So - writes Ben Davies - in case you hadn't heard or were wondering, yes, David Davis won in Haltemprice and Howden in the by-election he triggered over 42 day detention, and in which the Lib Dems and Labour didn't stand.

Turnout was 34.5 per cent - contrast that with the 58 per cent in Crewe and Nantwich - and Davis won 72 per cent of the vote.

Shan Oakes of the Greens got 1,758 votes coming second and the English Democrat's Joanne Robinson came third with 1,714 backing her in the Yorkshire constituency.

Out of 26 candidates, 23 lost their deposits after failing to attract 5 per cent of the vote.


0245BST


The results are finally in, delayed by a recount for Joanne Robinson of the English Democrats. Turnout is better than the most pessimistic forecasts at 35 percent with David Davis winning 17,113 votes - 72 percent of the vote. Shan Oakes of the Greens claims second place with 1,752 and Robinson finishes third with 1,714 while the rest look to have lost their deposits. For full results see the East Riding Council website (http://www.eastriding.gov.uk).

"We have fired a shot across the bows of Gordon Brown's arrogant, arbitrary and authoritarian government," Davis says, vowing to fight "Big Brother Britain" tooth and nail. He tells me his freedom campaign has achieved its objectives: "Today 17,000 people came out to vote for a principle... We've had Labour voters coming to vote for me, Liberal voters, Tory voters and people who've got no previous record of voting at all. What we've done is we've galvanised cross-party, across the board, almost apolitical support and that's wonderful." What next for Davis? He says his short term priority is to do what he can to prevent 42 days going through and believes Friday morning's result has sharply improved his chances of achieving that.

Despite the late hour, Shan Oakes of the Greens is also in good spirits with unofficial calculations suggesting it is the party's best ever showing, percentage-wise, in a parliamentary election. "What we were up against in this election was the Tory vote and the Tory machine – a lot of money, a lot of people, whereas we were working on a showstring." She says the Greens' localism had proved popular with many voters. "They really like the Green idea of working locally, planning things locally like local food, local energy, local transport. They are sick of being imposed upon by central government."

I also chat to Tom Darwood, an independent candidate who claims to be "the future King of the British peoples", the "true Archbishop of Canterbury" and the "true Pope" and believes Britain and the USA need to be united under a single throne - a manifesto that earned him 25 votes. "I've thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The camaraderie and friendliness between the candidates has been wonderful. We've created another historic moment in British political history." Alas, David Icke had been and gone before my arrival at the count.


0030BST


The count is well under way at Haltemprice Leisure Centre where the air smells less of freedom and liberty than stale sweat and chlorine. With most of the 26 candidates nervously assembled I finally catch up with Gemma Garrett of the Miss Great Britain Party, dressed in a sparkly mini dress and flanked by an equally eye-catching entourage. While she admits the campaign has been an "absolute ball" there has been a serious issue at its heart. "I have a cousin fighting in Afghanistan and another in Iraq and I'm here because of them and for the lack of support they have, the lack of pay, the lack of equipment and I could go on and on." She admits it has sometimes been difficult to get that message across in a short skirt but says that strategy ties in with the party's other objective to get young people voting. "We need young people in parliament to interest other young people. We are a very, very serious political group." I feel suitably told off.


1900BST


One of the big questions in this by-election has been "What has happened to all the Labour voters?" In fact, despite (or perhaps because of) its proximity to John Prescott's Kingston Upon Hull East fiefdom, Labour supporters are thin on the ground with the party picking up a little more than 6,000 votes at the last election. David Davis told me they were "all over the place" with some saying they were going to vote for a Tory for the first time in their life while others said they supported the issue but couldn't bring themselves to do it. Shan Oakes claims she is picking up disenchanted Labour voters too. One of the candidates, David Pinder of the New Party, is also an ex-Labour councillor disgruntled with present politics. "I know it sounds jaded but we stand for common sense and decency but we really do think it's time to do things differently," he said. "We think there is a third way if you spell 'third' with truth, honesty, integrity, respect and duty."

The only real Labour campaigner we've seen in recent days has been Bob Marshall-Andrews who claimed he had come up to support David Davis as the "authentic voice" of the Labour Party. "He told me he was going to do it and I encouraged him his sacrifice, not mine," said Marshall-Andrews, although you get the impression that he carries his Parliamentary Labour Party membership card lightly since prematurely announcing his own political demise at the last election.

Marshall-Andrews told me there was no excuse for Labour not to be represented and admitted that the party had conceded traditional ground on civil liberties to the Tories: "I'm really, really disappointed thst we have not come up to this and picked up this challenge. It was the perfect opportunity because we were in a constituency that we could not win. The political advantage on those terms was negligible but the advantage in terms of addressing one of the most serious political issues of our age was enormous and it seems to me that it was reprehensible that the party did not take this challenge up."


1800BST


I bite the bullet and call David Icke's publicist to ask whether the former Coventry stopper-turned conspiracy theorist is speaking to the press. Disconcertingly her mobile number contains the digits 666. She says he is due to attend tonight's count. Icke, who says he backs David Davis' stance against the "Orwellian state", hasn't been seen in the constituency since Sunday but his supporters mostly wide-eyed, muddle-headed people with eccentric hair and sandals (not so different from New Statesman readers really) have been around the fringes of most events and gatherings.

One of them even managed to slip through the cordon to ask George Osborne about the Bilderberg Group. I think I've learnt to spot the real conspiracy theorists though. They tend to be smartly dressed with the clipped tones and penetrating stares of men who know too much. I'm also starting to develop an alarming paranoia. After a long chat yesterday with one chap about the secret "one-world government" controlling the planet I became obsessed by a police motorcyclist who seemed to be following me for an unnecessarily long time. As our paths diverged at a roundabout a police car swung into view behind me. Perhaps there is something in this police state business after all...

The BBC meanwhile reports that the 26 candidates will be unable to share a platform at tonight's count for fear that the stage will collapse under their combined weight. I have heard that the Raving Loonies plan to bring their own Elvis to counter the Church of the Militant Elvis Party candidate. So there will be at least two Elvises (?) in the building.


1600BST


Also in Cottingham, valiantly trying to steer clear of the assorted loonies (both lower and upper case "l") aligned against her, I bump into the Green Party's Shan Oakes. I spent an afternoon with Oakes – who has been blogging herself for newstatesman.com - as she canvassed door-to-door earlier in the week and she is optimistic that the Green message has been getting through, even in a constituency where the party has not put up a candidate in a general election for more than two decades.

As the second most established political force among the 25 other options on the ballot paper, they are hopeful of a strong showing. "People are very despondent," she says. "But when we talk to them about local democracy and the real things people could do to work things out you can see a little spark of hope in their eyes."

Oakes believes David Davis' stance on civil liberties is misguided and inconsistent with Tory (and Labour) policies, arguing that the Greens are the true defenders of British libertarian instincts. "This country used to pride itself on habeas corpus [slipping towards Magna Cartaballs territory here... ] and why have we moved away from that? There is a progressive paranoia that has been stoked by the government and the Tories have colluded with that. They are just using fear to justify this creeping police state."

The Greens have also fallen out with the Davis campaign amid claims they have been "black-listed" and prevented from attending public meetings, as Oakes has described in her blog.

The Davis campaign says the Greens and other candidates were invited to attend Tuesday's public village hall event in Eastrington but were barred from Wednesday's Willerby Manor event which was limited to invited speakers, constituents and members of the fourth estate.


1530BST


It's impossible to walk down the main street in Cottingham without being ambushed by at least a couple of prospective parliamentarians. At one point I spy five of them at once. Among them is Mad Cow Girl of the Monster Raving Loonies, still vocally putting her message across with her megaphone. Worryingly, the Loony campaign vehicle is a yellow Citroen 2CV - once my parents' transport of choice - decorated with the number 42. "People love us. We shout, we scream, we play music, we have fun. People love to see the loonies," says Mad Cow Girl. But not everybody is convinced among the mostly pension-drawing passers-by. "I think it's disgusting," an elderly woman mutters as she walks by. "We've already got the loonies," another man quips in a bluff Yorkshire accent.

The Loonies admit they've conceded some of their traditional political ground to other candidates in this by-election but Mad Cow Girl - described as the Loonies' Ann Widdecombe - is happy to stray onto serious terrain by standing up for 42 days. "I just happen to not disagree with the government," she says. There is optimism in the Loony camp that the party can retain its deposit for the first time ever.

Further on, I meet independent Norman Scarth. At 82, he may well be the oldest candidate in the field. He is a navy veteran of the Second World War, serving on the convoys across the Atlantic and to Russia and he proudly wears the medals to prove it including a Soviet one awarded to him for his contribution to the Great Patriotic War effort. Also armed with a megaphone, Scarth believes Britain is a judicial tyranny that has badly failed the veterans who fought for freedom. "We have the rule of lawyers, not the rule of law," he says.

Next in line is another independent, Eamonn Fitzpatrick, a market trader calling himself the "voice of Northampton" who happily admits his recently launched political career was triggered by a midlife crisis, Tony Blair and the invasion of Iraq: "I'm a one man band. I love my country but I don't like what's happening." Fitzpatrick says there are loads of things he's "pissed off" about. "I'm a market trader and my living is under threat from supermarkets. I have to work six days a week, 12 hours a day to make my market business pay. So I'm against the supermarkets, I think they are bullies. I stick up for myself, I stick up for my business and I stick up for my country."

Still no sign of former Miss Great Britain Gemma Garrett. It seems I am the only person in the constituency not to have seen her.


1300BST


Jill Saward raised an interesting point while we were chatting about how everybody in this by-election has been talking about "the days of Maggy Carter". Magna Carta has of course been a Davis theme since he launched his campaign and the rallying cry was raised again on Wednesday when Shami Chakrabarti was up here to endorse him, talking about Britons' ancient liberties and even quoting the famous Tony Hancock line: "Did Magna Carta die in vain?"

Jill is not convinced and wonders what the relevance is of a document from the 1200s for knife crime-plagued 21st century Britain. "I don't know my history but wasn't that the days of the feudal system?" she wonders. The historian and occasional New Statesman contributor Edward Vallance has expertly unpicked what he calls "Magna Cartaballs" on his excellent blog.

As Vallance says: "Yes, the counter-terrorism bill is a terrible piece of legislation, but it signifies less a devil-may-care attitude to our civil liberties (though that, of course, is wholly evident) and more the very limited nature of 'British liberty' itself."


1230BST


In Hessle I meet up with Jill Saward, the victim of the 1986 Ealing Vicarage rape who is campaigning on a "true liberty" ticket, calling for tougher measures on crime and better support for the victims of crime and of sexual assault in particular.

Saward admits that she is not a natural politician and is taking a relaxed attitude to canvassing as we sit on a bench in the sunshine. She says people are fed up with being approached by candidates and feel "pressurised" into voting. She dismisses 42 days as a non-issue to ordinary people and describes David Davis' campaign as an exercise in self-promotion. She says people would welcome more CCTV ("People like being watched. They like to think that somebody is watching over them") if it made them feel safer and is strongly in favour of a DNA database.

"People who are innocent have nothing to fear and people who are guilty should not be allowed to get away with it. For me that turns justice on its head," Saward says. She concedes there are miscarriages of justice but says that DNA evidence could help catch people who otherwise would not be caught. And, she points out, a DNA database could be used to clear people as well as convict them.

Jill has used the campaign to raise awareness to the funding shortages afflicting Rape Crisis centres (as highlighted by newstatesman.com). While the Tories have vowed to increase funding if elected, Jill is disappointed by Davis' failure to use his clout as shadow home secretary to secure more funding for local Rape Crisis services in England and Wales. She says the East Riding district hasn't seen any of the £1m in new funding announced by the government earlier this year.

Saward vigorously denies suggestions that she was put up by the Labour Party, comparing her own modest resources to the lavish amounts she claims Davis has spent on "glossy posters and posh hotels": "My campaign headquarters is my husband's messy desk or a room at a Premier Travel Inn. I have had no emails from Labour MPs. I have received no funding from Labour. The only person who suggested I should run is my husband and he was joking."


1030BST


Just had an interesting chat with a couple of DD supporters over bacon sandwiches and lattes (me) and crisps and tea (them) in the cafe at Waitrose in Willerby. Andrew Brice and Duncan Boyd are up here canvassing on behalf of Christian Watch which they describe as a conservative ("with a small 'c'") Christian campaigning group. Their main gripe is political correctness – in particular restrictions on them conducting "open air work" - ie. handing out anti-homosexual literature on gay rights marches. To be fair DD distanced himself from that particular issue when he was asked about it by one of them at Wednesday's meeting but it just goes to show how widely he has cast his "civil liberties" net. "Increasingly liberals are themselves illiberal because they cannot tolerate any dissent," says Boyd. Brice says he admires Davis for making a stand on principle. And even the Christian right is opposed to 42 days by the way.

Meanwhile DD himself has voted down in Howden at the far end of the constituency. His press officer tells me that turnout has been"brisk". Mad Cow Girl of the Monster Raving Loonies has also been spotted in Howden, driving around haranguing people through a loudhailer. It's worth noting of course that the Loonies are representing the government on 42 days in this by-election. "I may be a Looney but I'm not mad enough to want dangerous people walking the streets," says Mad Cow Girl.


0900BST


The great battle for English liberties is under way in Haltemprice and Howden. I head to Willerby – David Davis' base camp in this sprawling constituency in search of early voters but there have only been a handful at the Memorial Hall polling station since voting began at 7 am and the ones I speak to suggest that many locals remain sceptical about the exercise. "I don't really like most of the people. Most of them are idiots. Most people can't be arsed," says first time voter Dominic. "David Davis has shot himself in the foot," says Claire Grimwood.

Turnout is going to be key today with some in the Davis camp fearful that it could drop as low as 20 per cent. Davis is defending a majority of 5,116 – 47 per cent of the vote - which he won at the 2005 general election on a 48 percent turnout and there's little doubt he is a popular constituency MP. There's also of course the interesting matter of who will finish second among the other 25 candidates – and whether any of them will get their deposits back.

What are David Davis' expectations? At his final campaign event on Wednesday at Willerby Manor Hotel he claimed he had influenced public mood already on 42 days detention without trial, claiming the public's change of heart had been the biggest turnaround in public opinion he had seen in his entire political career.

As for his personal ambitions, don't expect to see Davis grovelling for a place in the shadow cabinet. "We had to start with a toff so I went for Tony Benn," he said, describing the string of political stars who have been up here in support of his cause. "Then we went a bit downmarket and had David Cameron," prompting theatrical gasps of faux-shock from the Tory blue-rinse brigade.

It's a beautifully sunny morning over the East Riding which should ease some concerns over turnout. I even saw a Mini soft top with its roof ambitiously rolled back.

For the record here's a full list of today's runners and riders:

Grace Christine Astley (Independent), David Laurence Bishop (Church of the Militant Elvis Party), Ronnie Carroll (Make Politicians History), Mad Cow-Girl (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party), David Craig (Independent), Herbert Winford Crossman (Independent), Tess Culnane (National Front Britain for the British), Thomas Faithful Darwood (Independent), David Michael Davis (The Conservative Party), Tony Farnon (Independent), Eamonn Fitzy Fitzpatrick (Independent), Christopher Mark Foren (Independent), Gemma Dawn Garrett (Miss Great Britain Party), George Hargreaves (Christian Party), Hamish Howitt (Freedom 4 Choice), David Icke (Independent), John Nicholson (Independent), Shan Oakes (Green Party), David Pinder (The New Party), Joanne Robinson (English Democrats), Jill Saward (Independent), Norman Scarth (Independent), Walter Edward Sweeney (Independent), Christopher John Talbot (Socialist Equality Party), John Randle Upex (Independent), Greg Wood (Independent)

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Boris Johnson is disloyal, cynical and lazy - now it's up to Michael Gove to stop him

Theresa May is another serious contender for the crown.

UPDATEMichael Gove appears, at the eleventh hour, to have learned something about Boris Johnson that anyone who has worked with him either in journalism or politics could have told him years ago: that Johnson is entirely unreliable. The leaked email in which Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, warned him of the assurances he needed to get from Johnson before pledging himself as the key supporter in his campaign turns out to have been the writing on the wall for a clear run for Johnson. Word was swirling round Westminster after the email was leaked that Johnson appeared to have offered the same senior cabinet post – believed to have been the Treasury – to more than one person in return for support. Perhaps this was down to incompetence rather than dishonesty. Gove has made his own judgment, and it is, for an intelligent and serious man, an inevitable one.

Many Brexiteers, who feel that someone who shared their view should end up leading the Tory party, will be delighted by Gove’s decision. There was deep unease among many of them about the idea of a showman rather than a statesman inevitably ending up in Downing Street. What Gove will need to do now is to persuade colleagues who had gone behind Johnson because they did not want Theresa May to shift behind him. Some of Johnson’s supporters caused enormous surprise by their decision – such as Sir Nicholas Soames, who spent the referendum campaign denouncing Johnson on his Twitter feed – and they are not natural bedfellows of his. One Tory MP told me before Gove’s decision to stand that a group of “sensible” Tories had accepted the inevitability of a Johnson victory and had decided to get around him to try to keep him on the straight and narrow. The view that Johnson is unstoppable is now going to be tested, possibly to destruction, and those who had made the leap to support him may now well leap back.

Following Theresa May’s very assured launch of her campaign, which radiated statesmanship and sincerity, the Brexiteers need to ask themselves what sort of candidate is going to provide the best challenge to her, for she is clearly formidable. Given the choice between a volatile buffoon taking her on or someone who is more level-headed and serious doing so, the latter must inevitably be the best option. Johnson has never looked like a unifying figure, and certainly not one it was easy for rational people to imagine leading the country in an international context.

Gove’s decision not to support Johnson does not merely withdraw his personal support. It will withdraw the support of many who were prepared, reluctantly, to follow his lead and join the Johnson campaign. It has a parallel in history, which was William Hague’s decision to run on his own account instead of supporting Michael Howard in the 1997 contest after the party’s annihilation by Tony Blair. Hague won, and turned out to be a hapless leader. Gove is made of heavier metal and the party is in less perilous circumstances, so the outcome for him, should he win, ought to be better.

In the last few days a considerable portion of the Tory party has taken leave of its senses. In such a condition, envisaging Johnson as its leader was easy. Sanity and calm are now prevailing. The Brexiteers in the party – or at least that group of them resolute that they cannot have a remainer as leader - can now reflect on whether it wants an act or a politician to become prime minister. At least, thanks to Mr Gove, it now has a choice.

***

 

Once upon a time, often within hours of a prime minister resigning, a “magic circle” of Tory grandees would decide after “soundings” whom to send to Buckingham Palace to kiss hands as the new man. Now, the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers has sought to do what it can to emulate the process, fast-tracking the election of David Cameron’s successor so that he or she is in place by 9 September, and ignoring calls for a period of wider reflection on whom the party needs to take it forward through the uncharted waters of negotiating an exit with the European Union. Longer consideration may have been helpful, given that the party is choosing not merely
its leader, but the next prime minister.

At the time of writing, it appears the main fight will be between Boris Johnson and Theresa May. Jeremy Hunt proposed himself as a “second referendum” candidate, even though the Tory party in particular wants another plebiscite about as much as it would like to put its collective head in a mincer. There is talk of two lesser cabinet ministers, Stephen Crabb and Sajid Javid, presenting a “joint bid”, even though such a concept is unknown to the Conservative constitution; and others are floating around the margins. The tumult reflects the hysterical state of mind in the party: no one in Cameron’s inner circle expected the British public to disobey orders, including, one starts to imagine, Johnson. It is only the preposterous events in the Labour Party that have stopped the Tories from seeming to be completely out of control.

It has become Tory party lore that the favourite never wins, on the precept that he who wields the knife never ends up wearing the crown: but as of now, at least, many of the Tory MPs believe nothing can prevent their colleagues voting in sufficient numbers to put Johnson in the second and final round of the contest, the one in which all paid-up members may vote. And if he gets there, they feel, the outcome is even less in doubt: he will win.

Predicting this will happen and wanting it to happen are, of course, not the same thing. A distressed Tory MP told me he expected Labour sympathisers to join his party to vote for Johnson, rather as mischievous Tories joined Labour to elect Jeremy Corbyn. The rules, however, forbid such last-minute purchases of a vote: yet the sentiment shows what an equally substantial group of Tory MPs think of Johnson’s capabilities, and explains why the anyone-but-Boris movement sprang into action the instant Cameron ran up the white flag. They know that, for all Johnson’s failings, and there are many, he has the entertainer’s knack of making people love him. Sadly – and this is the part his adoring public doesn’t see – things can be very different when he enters his dressing room and starts to take off the make-up. As Sir Alan Duncan said forthrightly last weekend, there is the small matter of Johnson lacking the gravitas and experience to be a credible prime minister, something MPs should have the wit to take into account even if the party in the country at large does not.

The Johnson phenomenon is not the least reason why even some of Cameron’s most consistent critics did not call for him to resign if he lost the referendum. The more time the Tory party had to consider Johnson as a potential leader, and what that entails, the better. Some MPs are angry that Cameron did not take immediate responsibility for cleaning up the mess he had helped make and preside over the exit negotiations. His colleagues feel he simply couldn’t be bothered, which is consistent with the often idle way he ran both his opposition and the government – an idleness that prevented him putting any contingency plan in place. The grand gesture, the great claim and the sweep of rhetoric are very arresting, and take little time. Following through is harder: but Cameron has a long record of not considering the consequences of words and actions, and this debacle for him is the ultimate, and most spectacular, example.

The pessimism that Johnson’s detractors feel about stopping him rests in what they know and see of the self-interest of their more bovine colleagues. The first concern of one group is to back the winner, and they think that will be Johnson (something with the status, in those circumstances, of a self-fulfilling prophecy). They also think that should Labour find a new leader and become a serious opposition, Johnson is the man most likely to win an election. Whether that would come next spring – if the new leader sought a new mandate as Gordon Brown did not in 2007 – or in 2020, as the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act decrees, is a separate but important question. Johnson’s acolytes have let it be known he would not call an early poll. He (or any other leader) would be absolutely constitutionally justified in not doing so. More to the point, you do not plot from the womb to become the Queen’s first minister only to risk chucking away the key to the Downing Street drinks cabinet after a few weeks. However, a weakened Labour Party may prove an irresistible target, and Tories recall how history would have been different if Gordon Brown had gone to the country in the autumn of 2007, as many urged him to do.

The press – and not just on the left – could well give Johnson a hard time. His baroque private life has exhausted its capacity to shock, but there is scope to scrutinise his record of underachievement as mayor of London; or Michael Howard’s sacking him for lying; or the Times sacking him for making up quotations (from his godfather) in a story; or his offering to assist his old schoolfriend Darius Guppy in having a journalist who had disobliged Guppy beaten up. Or perhaps, in the present political mood of the Western world, he can emulate Donald Trump, being able to say and do the most appalling things and yet still encourage vast numbers to vote for him.

Theresa May’s ambitions have been barely concealed. She has been “on man­oeuvres” since the 2015 general election. She worked out that the best way to manoeuvre during the referendum campaign was to say nothing, to avoid becoming a divisive figure. Aside from some rare moments of half-hearted support for Remain, that is exactly what she did. Had she gone the other way, the leadership contest might be closer, because her seniority and experience would have matched Johnson’s charisma: as it is, the best her colleagues believe she can hope for, barring some dramatic development, is to come second. A Times poll on Tuesday said that Tory voters preferred her to Johnson, which has the smell of accuracy about it. Activists – those with a vote – are a different matter. They appear in no mood at the moment to elect a Remainer.

Yet they are in some measure in the mood to elect a unifier: and, for all his attempts at sober statesmanship since the vote, Johnson (given his past) will have to stretch credulity even more than usual to convince as one of those. The anyone-but-Boris movement is motivated by the list of his perceived offences and character defects. Few believe he would have plumped for Leave had he thought it would lose: Johnson’s years on the rubber chicken circuit, and his mailbag from Telegraph readers in the provinces, made him more aware than most of his metropolitan colleagues of the true nature of public feeling outside the bubble. He is seen as utterly flexible in terms of principle: and, from the nature of his campaign rhetoric, as disloyal, cynical and lazy. Critics recall the number of deputy mayors (seven at one point) he required to do his last job. He is widely considered untrustworthy.

Perhaps he can unify activists who seem near universally to admire his carefully manufactured persona: he will find it harder to unify the parliamentary party, and would probably require a resounding general election victory before doing so. Even then, doubts born of years of witnessing his buffoonery and prevarication would be hard to allay.

***

MPs felt that two other Brexiteers had far better credentials as unifiers. The most obvious was Michael Gove, whom some tried to persuade to stand; but Gove signalled his willingness to throw in his lot with Johnson.

The other increasingly discussed name in the days after the referendum was Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister and, before that, economic secretary to the Treasury. Many even in her own party never thought of her as a potential leader until recent weeks: but these were weeks in which she showed her key virtues. She is intelligent and capable. She had a long career in business before entering government, and presents a happy contrast to ministers who spent their lives as special advisers before gracing the back benches. Leadsom is deeply principled but also reasonable: she abstained in the vote on same-sex marriage because she did not want to show a lack of respect to homosexuals and lesbians who wished to solemnise their relationships, but she could not support the notion because of her religious views. Remainers consider her to have performed uniformly well in debates and television interviews during the EU campaign, because she avoided personal attacks, spurious claims and wild threats.

She is popular with her colleagues. However, if she has let her name go forward she will start from the back of the field. It would require the sort of organisation that enabled Mrs Thatcher to beat Ted Heath in 1975 if she were to pull this off. However, should Johnson implode during this campaign, and she had become a candidate, she would be fabulously well placed to pick up his voters.

May would seem to be way ahead as the Remain candidate, but will have to earn that position in the hustings that will run over the summer. The dark horse is Stephen Crabb, who replaced Iain Duncan Smith at Work and Pensions, in league with Sajid Javid, a secret Leaver who called it wrongly and who is now trying to salvage his future. A self-deprecating man from a humble background and with few enemies, Crabb, who was previously Welsh secretary, reminds me of John Major, who was brought into the cabinet and rose rapidly. In a leadership campaign held in the middle of a parliament, Major won and became prime minister, trading heavily on a backstory of his unprivileged upbringing. If Crabb ends up being nominated, he may be the man May must beat if she is to be the principal challenger to Johnson.

George Osborne has ruled himself out but remains relevant. He wants to carry on in government and, like the overgrown student politician he is, may be about to make an accommodation with those he has denounced for months in order to continue to hold a senior post. Also, not least because of Cameron’s laziness and casual attitude towards his party, he had exercised a substantial and growing influence over patronage and especially over senior government appointments. He had made a point of getting to know MPs on the way up, not least because he expected to be prime minister and wanted to be sure he had a clientele of loyalists to support him. He was starting to appoint his ministerial team, in effect, before becoming prime minister.

Osborne’s prospects have crashed, but his machine remains, for the moment, intact. If he has chosen wisely, he has a group of loyalists whom he can deploy in support of the candidate he chooses. However, now he can be of no use to his clients, it will be interesting to see whether they take the blindest bit of notice of him.

There is talk of Johnson making him foreign secretary, which would show an advanced sense of humour, given the role that person might have to play in the exit negotiations. Gove, if he has thrown in his lot with Johnson, might end up as chancellor.

The party is so fractious that the next nine weeks could provide a roller coaster: any talk of going back on the idea of strict border controls, for instance – something Johnson has hinted at – could cause huge turbulence. I suspect we are about to find that conducting a leadership contest at any time is a project laced with tension; to conduct one in a climate of scarcely concealed hysteria is not least why anything could yet happen.

Simon Heffer is a columnist for the Daily and the Sunday Telegraph

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies