LIZ JONES: This scandal won’t beat BoJo. But boyish, energetic Jeremy Hunt just might

Remember the P45 handed to Theresa May on stage at the 2017 Tory conference? 

As the Tory faithful waited for the duellists to appear for the first hustings to find our new PM yesterday, some were wondering aloud whether a house-proud member might stagger up to offer Boris Johnson a coaster for his glass of red wine. 

‘Or,’ as one sixtysomething told me in the queue, ‘some upholstery cleaner’.

After Jeremy had finished speaking ¿ and bathed in yet another standing ovation ¿ we all filed out into a perfect English summer evening. And everyone I spoke to felt something had shifted. Hunt just felt more¿ modern

After Jeremy had finished speaking ¿ and bathed in yet another standing ovation ¿ we all filed out into a perfect English summer evening. And everyone I spoke to felt something had shifted. Hunt just felt more¿ modern

After Jeremy had finished speaking – and bathed in yet another standing ovation – we all filed out into a perfect English summer evening. And everyone I spoke to felt something had shifted. Hunt just felt more… modern

Despite the ferocious Sofagate row that led to police being called – reportedly started after Mr Johnson spilled red wine on girlfriend Carrie Symonds’s settee – the mood in the hall before the first of 16 of these things was ebullient. 

‘It’s all a storm in a wine glass!’ said Valerie Mant, a 75-year-old vision in pink. 

‘You’ve been married. I’ve been married. Boris is the only man who can beat Corbyn.’

‘Oh, for a tickly cough!’ joked another, referring to poor old Mrs May’s dreadful conference appearance.

Another woman told me: ‘I don’t trust Jeremy Hunt.’ Why on Earth not? ‘Eyes too close together.’ Guffaw, guffaw, guffaw.

Boris couldn¿t help glancing at his watch more than once. Perhaps that was why he seemed rushed: he just couldn¿t wait to get the keys to No 10, and all this business was holding him up

Boris couldn¿t help glancing at his watch more than once. Perhaps that was why he seemed rushed: he just couldn¿t wait to get the keys to No 10, and all this business was holding him up

Boris couldn’t help glancing at his watch more than once. Perhaps that was why he seemed rushed: he just couldn’t wait to get the keys to No 10, and all this business was holding him up 

Marcus Lapsa, 63, and a Tory activist since he was 18, agreed. ‘My opinion of Boris has not changed at all. It was a domestic. Things are said.’

But they all loved talking about it. If anything, the ‘scandal’ only added to Boris’s lustre.

Younger members – though greatly outnumbered in Birmingham by the silver set – were also in agreement that the argument with the future First Girlfriend matters not a jot.

Sara Allt, a 24-year-old graduate, said: ‘Nothing has been confirmed about that story, so I can’t comment. But Boris is the only one who can deliver Brexit.’

At the end of Boris¿s session, after taking a few questions from the floor, there was a standing ovation. But to me it didn¿t seem quite as joyous as the one he enjoyed last autumn, at the party conference in this very building

At the end of Boris¿s session, after taking a few questions from the floor, there was a standing ovation. But to me it didn¿t seem quite as joyous as the one he enjoyed last autumn, at the party conference in this very building

At the end of Boris’s session, after taking a few questions from the floor, there was a standing ovation. But to me it didn’t seem quite as joyous as the one he enjoyed last autumn, at the party conference in this very building

Lukhani Rogol, 18, and Kenneth Morris, 24, both spoke as one: ‘It’s a private matter. It proves they have a passionate relationship.’ Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

Even the one 16-year-old member I could get to admit to backing Jeremy Hunt had to agree that ‘I think the neighbours who ratted on the row had anti-Boris stickers on their car.’

No one had a bad word to say about Boris’s girlfriend, aside from one millennial woman, who told me: ‘He probably doesn’t realise women have changed since he first started marrying them. We won’t put up with any bad habits. I imagine she put him on a diet not to improve his image, but because he was taking up too much space!’

Boris had kept going on about how his ‘energy’ and drive would get him a sensible deal, but in last night’s fight at least, Hunt was a surprise Henry Cooper. I think several ladies left with their menopause reversed: ‘I love you all!’ Jeremy had declared, and we blushed

Not that such comments worried the Boris fan club as they waited for the debate to kick off. Necks were also craned to see if anyone could spot Ms Symonds.

Inside the hall, soft jazz was playing to calm us. It didn’t work. It was like being at a rock concert: a huge buzz of excitement. Where’s the Mop Top? Where?

Finally, about half an hour late, Boris came on stage, and the surprise was that the reception was quite muted. He was in a suit and tie, and spoke at the lectern for seven minutes.

Most we had heard before, and it all felt quite rushed. I can’t help but wonder, with the rushing and the mumbling, how European politicians will even be able to understand him. But here, the audience hung on his every word.

Next up was the interview with broadcaster Iain Dale.

Boris’s body language was off. He sunk in the chair, looking defensive. The first question was an obvious one: ‘Why were the police called to your flat?’

He made jokes ¿ jokes about getting his wife Lucia¿s ethnicity wrong and about how being the underdog had meant the internet is being kind to him for the first time in his life. ¿We can choose our own Jeremy!¿ he laughed ¿ contrasting himself with Corbyn

He made jokes ¿ jokes about getting his wife Lucia¿s ethnicity wrong and about how being the underdog had meant the internet is being kind to him for the first time in his life. ¿We can choose our own Jeremy!¿ he laughed ¿ contrasting himself with Corbyn

He made jokes – jokes about getting his wife Lucia’s ethnicity wrong and about how being the underdog had meant the internet is being kind to him for the first time in his life. ‘We can choose our own Jeremy!’ he laughed – contrasting himself with Corbyn

He refused to answer. He went on about his character traits. Brave, he ventured. Determined. Um, brave again.

He was asked about the incident again. And again. It became clear he was not going to be pushed. Boris brought up his success as London Mayor as a reason why he should win the Big One.

Asked to describe the worst experience of his life, he talked about the London riots. He said he’d been on holiday when the violence broke out – but he soon came back and sorted it all out. Oh, and delivered the Olympic Games. Yay!

But Boris couldn’t help glancing at his watch more than once. Perhaps that was why he seemed rushed: he just couldn’t wait to get the keys to No 10, and all this business was holding him up.

At one point he asked: ‘How much longer have we got?’

It all felt a little old-fashioned. In fact he kept talking about ‘shouldering the wheel’.

He wanted us to compare him to Trump, even giving us a nudge: ‘I don’t want to sound like the American President when I talk about Sadiq Khan…’ but the problem was, he wasn’t even as good as Trump when it came to rousing the troops.

He hedged bets a bit, too. He has ‘anxieties’ about HS2, whereas later Hunt said, straight up, that it’s happening.

At the end of Boris’s session, after taking a few questions from the floor, there was a standing ovation. But to me it didn’t seem quite as joyous as the one he enjoyed last autumn, at the party conference in this very building.

It was as though we had married the man, then got to the honeymoon suite to discover he picks his feet. But for his spectacular bust-up with Carrie – well no one seemed to care. Quite the opposite.

People would have clapped him on his great big domed back if he’d passed. ‘He will survive this – no one cares about a domestic matter,’ someone said.

Then, Jeremy Hunt bounded on stage like a puppy. The surprise? He no longer had the expression of a hedgehog who realises he’s set paw on the M1.

He was dressed in a shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, as if to say: ‘I’ve come here to do the job.’

He didn’t actually rub his hands together, but the message was clear. He was no longer the plain Ken doll. He was Action Man! His speech was clear. No notes. He didn’t stand protected behind a lectern, but instead bounced around like a free-range chicken, on his toes, strutting.

He made jokes – jokes about getting his wife Lucia’s ethnicity wrong and about how being the underdog had meant the internet is being kind to him for the first time in his life.

‘We can choose our own Jeremy!’ he laughed – contrasting himself with Corbyn.

Despite the ferocious Sofagate row that led to police being called ¿ reportedly started after Mr Johnson spilled red wine on girlfriend Carrie Symonds¿s settee ¿ the mood in the hall before the first of 16 of these things was ebullient

Despite the ferocious Sofagate row that led to police being called ¿ reportedly started after Mr Johnson spilled red wine on girlfriend Carrie Symonds¿s settee ¿ the mood in the hall before the first of 16 of these things was ebullient

Despite the ferocious Sofagate row that led to police being called – reportedly started after Mr Johnson spilled red wine on girlfriend Carrie Symonds’s settee – the mood in the hall before the first of 16 of these things was ebullient

In fact, he made far more jokes than Boris, such as quoting his hashtag: take a #punthunt.

Backs in the audience started to straighten, and lean forward. He also said the word ‘green’ far more often than Boris.

Coupled with his interview and questions from the floor, it was clear he had decided to play the man, not the ball: ‘Who do we trust?’ he said pointedly, those close-set eyes glinting.

Hunt didn’t allude to the sofa scandal, showing he’s a gentleman, but he did give Boris the ‘fight of his life’, as promised on his tin.

He said he had found his ‘inner steel’ after clearing his name in the Leveson Inquiry and nearly losing his job. (He had been accused of getting too close to Rupert Murdoch when, as Culture Secretary, he approved the Murdoch bid for BSkyB).

Challenged for being too nice, he replied: ‘It’s possible to be polite and tough.’

If he is made PM, he will not allow an Election before we are out of Europe, and I believed him. Such a mistake, he said, ‘would kill us’.

Best of all, votes-wise, was when talking about how he had made the NHS safer, working with parents who had lost babies, he actually had tears in his eyes. It made you think, yes, he does care. He is decent. He is not in this for power, or even for himself.

After yesterday’s hustings, it felt as if it’s not going to be any scandal that might fell Boris. It’s Jeremy Hunt.

My goodness, that man has the victory wave down pat, and was spot-on remembering everyone’s names. He gave, too, what I thought was the best line of the night: ‘I will land an economic jumbo jet on Europe’s doorstep.’

After Jeremy had finished speaking – and bathed in yet another standing ovation – we all filed out into a perfect English summer evening. And everyone I spoke to felt something had shifted. Hunt just felt more… modern.

One youngish man: ‘We didn’t really know Jeremy before today, and who knew he had such a personality? There is only so much room for big personalities, so I guess he’d kept a bit quiet. I was pro-Boris, but now I’m undecided.’

Boris¿s body language was off. He sunk in the chair, looking defensive. The first question was an obvious one: ¿Why were the police called to your flat?'.  He refused to answer

Boris¿s body language was off. He sunk in the chair, looking defensive. The first question was an obvious one: ¿Why were the police called to your flat?'.  He refused to answer

Boris’s body language was off. He sunk in the chair, looking defensive. The first question was an obvious one: ‘Why were the police called to your flat?’.  He refused to answer

His friend, too, thought Hunt had come out on top for now – though ‘the people who love Boris, love Brexit, will still not be swayed. Hunt’s weakness is that he voted Remain. We’re like elephants, truly.’

But oh my goodness. The women I spoke to as we filed out were positively glowing. Not because of any solidarity with a former PR girl and her choice of boyfriend, but because Hunt was so damned boyish and full of energy.

Boris had kept going on about how his ‘energy’ and drive would get him a sensible deal, but in last night’s fight at least, Hunt was a surprise Henry Cooper.

I think several ladies left with their menopause reversed: ‘I love you all!’ Jeremy had declared, and we blushed.

Yet will the hard and fast Tories, the hard Brexiteers, believe his statement that he has changed his mind on Remain? In the hard light of day, I’m not so sure they will.

I don’t believe Boris will be homeless any time soon – row or no row with his girlfriend.

He will soon have the keys to No 10 which will have, as Andrew Neil tweeted, ‘specially thickened walls should he put Govey into No 11’.

I bumped into Valerie Mant again. She was all for Boris before we went in. So had her head been turned?

‘No! That is just Boris. We accept him for what he is. We know what he is. He is the only Brexiteer. He is the only one who will get votes back from the Brexit Party.’

A shame, really, I said, and she agreed. Brexit keeps on ruining careers.

And so it seems this Weeble has wobbled, but he hasn’t fallen down quite yet. There are 15 more nights like this one to go, and I think on this showing, Jeremy will only grow with confidence.

Meaning Boris will need a few more nights of unbroken sleep.

Link hienalouca.com

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