Boris Johnson moves Tories to the right

THE decision by former Cabinet minister and Conservative leadership candidate Rory Stewart to quit the party is yet another sign Boris Johnson has shifted the Tories decisively to the right.

Tuesday, 8th October 2019, 6:00 am
Boris Johnson has claimed he is "the most liberal Conservative Prime Minister for decades".

The maverick Mr Stewart was briefly the big hope of moderate Tories in the contest to succeed Theresa May before being eliminated in the closing rounds. He was then one of the 21 Tory rebels, along with Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond and Sir Nicholas Soames, expelled from the parliamentary party for voting against the Prime Minister on a no-deal Brexit.

Now he clearly sees no future for himself in the party as led by Mr Johnson - and he plans to stand as an independent for Mr Johnson’s old job as Mayor of London.

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Tory hopeful Rory Stewart visits Edinburgh
Former leadership contender Rory Stewart has quit the party and plans to stand as an independent to be Mayor of London.

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And of course Ruth Davidson resigned as Scottish Tory leader amid well-known policy differences with the Prime Minister as well as the new demands of motherhood.

If that is a statement of intent then it might be widely welcomed, though as always it is difficult to know how much store to set by Mr Johnson’s words.

But there is little evidence of Mr Johnson’s supposed liberal streak in his behaviour since walking into Number Ten at the end of July.

There are still fears that the no-deal Brexit he is willing to risk - and is arguably becoming the most likely outcome - will see Britain become a low-tax, low-regulation economy seeking to undercut our current European partners. That would almost inevitably mean lower wages and fewer rights for workers.

And it is difficult to see how Mr Johnson can claim his government is not right wing when he has Home Secretary Priti Patel, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss in such important roles.

Mr Johnson has made promises about increased spending on schools and hospitals and an increase in the minimum wage, which sound like a reversal of the austerity policies of the Cameron and May eras.

But these have to be seen in the context of a looming election which Mr Johnson is desperate to win to avoid becoming the UK’s shortest-serving Prime Minister.

Having seen how Labour’s 2017 election manifesto captured the imagination of may voters with its policies on nationalisation of rail, water and energy supply, higher taxes for top earners and big business, and scrapping tuition fees in an election which was originally expected to be all about Brexit, Mr Johnson wants to make sure he has a broader platform on which to appeal to voters than simply delivering Brexit, although that remains the key issue.

Labour’s internal divisions and confusion over its Brexit stance are hampering its election chances.

If Mr Johnson is able to achieve something he can call a deal from Brussels and then secure a majority in parliament to support it, he will hold an election, telling voters he has delivered on his promises. A no-deal Brexit would be more complicated but could still see him with a good chance of re-election. Then the UK would face five more years of Johnson rule.