Tories cheer Boris despite turmoil in his private life

Former UK foreign secretary and Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson speaking during a hustings event in Birmingham last Saturday, where he made his pitch to party members.
Former UK foreign secretary and Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson speaking during a hustings event in Birmingham last Saturday, where he made his pitch to party members.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON • Mr Boris Johnson pitched his bid for UK prime minister to Conservative Party members and drew cheers when he dodged questions about a spat with his partner that brought the police to their London home.

Mr Johnson and his opponent Jeremy Hunt made their opening appeals to grassroots Tories last Saturday at a hustings, or political roadshow, that focused attention on the former's character.

The two candidates will crisscross Britain seeking to become party leader before a membership ballot next month that will point the way to Prime Minister Theresa May's replacement.

Mr Johnson's first appearance on the campaign trail came a day after officers were called to the home he shares with Ms Carrie Symonds early on Friday, about six hours after his confirmation as front runner in the race to succeed Mrs May, who is also leader of the Conservatives.

Last Saturday, he arrived to whoops and cheers from supporters in the hall at Birmingham.

The host, journalist Iain Dale, soon asked him about the incident.

When Mr Johnson dodged and then said he would not discuss the matter, some Tory activists in the audience booed the host and shouted for him to move on.

 
 
 
 

Mr Johnson, a former foreign secretary, who opened the event saying he was "the right man to unleash" on European Union negotiators, sought to steer the discussion back to Britain's exit from the bloc.

"People are entitled to ask about me and my determination, my character and what I want to do for the country," he said.

"Let me just tell you that when I make a promise in politics, about what I'm going to do, I keep that promise and I deliver."

Mr Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, presented himself as a safer choice to negotiate Brexit.

"If we send the wrong person, catastrophe awaits," he told the audience, in a jibe at the more mercurial Mr Johnson.

"If we send the wrong person, there will be no negotiation, no trust, possibly no deal and maybe no Brexit if Parliament stops it."

Having campaigned to stay in the EU during the 2016 referendum campaign, Mr Hunt was forced to prove his commitment to delivering Brexit to an audience of Conservatives who are more determined to leave the EU than the general population.

Talks are "not going to be easy" but "it's not impossible either", because a deal is in both sides' interests, Mr Hunt said.

Latest opinion polls are mixed for the two candidates.

A ComRes survey of 510 Conservative councillors for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper showed 61 per cent intended to vote for Mr Johnson.

A separate Mail on Sunday and Survation poll of 1,000 adults - not only those able to vote in the leadership race - found Mr Hunt to have overtaken his rival.

BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2019, with the headline 'Tories cheer Boris despite turmoil in his private life'. Print Edition | Subscribe