Belfast Telegraph

Chris Moncrieff: Why Johnson v Hunt is threatening to put the Conservatives to sleep

As the Tory leadership hustings arrive in Northern Ireland today, neither Boris nor Jeremy bring any excitement to the contest

Conservative Party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt
Conservative Party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt
Conservative Party leadership contender Boris Johnson
Jeremy Corbyn

By Chris Moncrieff

Who on Earth suspected that what should have been a bitterly fought contest for the premiership of the United Kingdom - especially one involving the rumbustious Boris Johnson - should have deteriorated into such a tedious and boring affair?

One would have expected Johnson and his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, would have been fighting each other like ferrets in a sack. But in reality they are pawing at each other like two timid pussy cats.

The fact of the matter is that there are 16 hustings involving the two contestants (today's is in Northern Ireland) and we have so far only achieved a fraction of that number and the pair of them have been arguing mainly about the intricacies of Brexit - about which the electorate have had more than their fill over the past two years.

In short, neither of the contestants appear able or willing to say anything new, so no wonder this battle has barely achieved a spark of interest in the campaign. In fact, it appears to be sending the Conservative Party to sleep.

Maybe this reluctance on the part of the contestants to show any fighting spirit can be put down to a fear on the part of both of them to offend their opponent.

It hardly bears thinking about that we shall have to wait virtually until the end of the month before this tedious debate is brought to an end.

You would have thought that a battle for the premiership would have fired up the candidates. But they have shown no aptitude whatsoever for a proper political ding-dong.

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Some heads ought to be rolling in the Civil Service as a result of claims by some Government employees that Jeremy Corbyn is too frail to become Prime Minister.

It is no job of the Civil Service to talk to newspapers about the personal shortcomings of politicians, and it is hardly surprising that Corbyn is raging at these suggestions. It is extremely damaging for a senior politician to have his health queried by civil servants, since it is no part of their job to do so and is grossly damaging for the politician concerned. I trust that the Government will look into this scandal to ensure that those responsible for it will be suitably punished - and that means immediate dismissal.

Ian Blackford, the Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party, launched a scathing attack on Boris Johnson - although not mentioning him by name - during Prime Minister's questions in the Commons last week.

Speaker John Bercow ignored Blackford's insinuations and said, when challenged, that he did not hear them.

That strikes me as the most feeble excuse the Speaker could have raised.

As far as I could make out everyone else in the chamber heard the remark and perhaps Bercow should pay more attention to what is being said in the chamber.

Although he indicated that, if the word had been used, then Blackford was at fault, but he did not demand a withdrawal of the offending word and, indeed, Blackford repeated it when he resumed his question to the Prime Minister.

Normally, the Speaker comes down like a ton of bricks when MPs use unparliamentary words like "lying".

But on this occasion he appeared to be suffering from what some MPs later described as "diplomatic deafness".

Blackford is lucky not to have been thrown out of the House - especially as he offered no apology or withdrawal.

The Labour Party appears to be at sixes and sevens over their Derby North MP Chris Williamson and alleged anti-Semitic words that he used.

First he was suspended from the party, and then, inexplicably, readmitted. This drew a barrage of protest from more than 100 Labour politicians and it was then decided, presumably as a result of this protest, that Williamson should once again lose the whip.

The Labour Party's record on anti-Semitism is nothing to be proud of and this incident demonstrates how divided and muddled the party is on this issue.

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