STEPHEN GLOVER: Surely I’m not the only one who is deeply depressed by this lacklustre PM contest?

Panonood Boris Johnson over recent days, I have felt like a supporter disenchanted with a heavyweight boxer who has just made a long-awaited comeback.

We always knew he was an unconventional and unpredictable fighter, and that he likes to bend the rules. There have even been plausible claims of cheating in the past.

Nonetheless, like many others, I was prepared this time last week to cheer on Battling Boris in the belief that he offered the best chance of Britain leaving the EU. I certainly felt he could be counted on to hit the target.

What a disappointment he has been! His campaign was chaotic — so much so that Iain Duncan Smith has been brought in to introduce some order — and marked by accusations of lying.

In almost every way, Boris has proved astonishingly poorly prepared for the fight of his life. The only thing in his favour is that Jeremy Hunt has failed to capitalise on his shortcomings.

Whether the 160,000 Tory Party members who will choose the next prime minister share my sense of let-down with Boris Johnson I can¿t say

Whether the 160,000 Tory Party members who will choose the next prime minister share my sense of let-down with Boris Johnson I can¿t say

Whether the 160,000 Tory Party members who will choose the next prime minister share my sense of let-down with Boris Johnson I can’t say

Whether the 160,000 Tory Party members who will choose the next prime minister share my sense of let-down with Mr Johnson I can’t say. But I’m pretty sure millions of voters will be equally bewildered, if not aghast.

Can this blustering, evasive, imprecise, surprisingly depressed-looking figure really be the acme of our nation’s hopes? Is a man who declines 23 times to answer questions about a stage-managed photo of himself and his partner, Carrie Symonds, fit to run the country?

The picture itself was of zero importance. All that matters is whether it was taken, as it was purported to be, after their recent spat. Or whether it was of older vintage, and conjured up by spin doctors to convey a false impression of mutual adoration. Boris refuses to enlighten us.

Maybe begging him to be truthful and honest is no more profitable than howling at the moon. Perhaps it’s a fool’s errand to expect him to provide a credible account of how Britain can extricate itself as painlessly as possible from the EU.

And maybe, too, the majority of the mostly white, rather elderly Tory Party members will go on rooting for their man whatever weaknesses in his character are exposed, and no matter how many slippery arguments are revealed.

But shouldn’t the rest of us still try to hold him to account? Are those of us who aren’t, and have never been, members of the Conservative Party, obliged to believe that Boris can walk on water?

Look at his contention that Britain has little to fear from a No Deal Brexit because Article 24 of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) treaty provides a legal basis for a standstill agreement with the EU, during which zero tariffs and quotas can be maintained until a new trade deal is agreed.

When this assertion was debunked by the director-general of the World Trade Organisation, the governor of the Bank of England and the deputy prime minister, my immediate thought was: they would say that, wouldn’t they? Aren’t they all anti-Brexit?

But then the purist and practically life-long Eurosceptic Liam Fox stepped forward to point out that such an arrangement would require the agreement of the EU, which Brussels has ruled out.

Having been International Trade Secretary for nearly three years, Dr Fox knows a thing or two about GATT. Boris knows somewhat less. The last time he mentioned the word in a newspaper article was 22 years ago.

It is, of course, possible that the EU will raise the white flag and come to an accommodation which it has categorically repudiated. Unlikely, though. Mr Johnson’s plan is a long shot, yet he talks confidently in blithe generalities.

Dr Fox (who backs Jeremy Hunt) has chided him by saying it is essential that the public debate is conducted ‘on the basis of fact, rather than supposition’. Shouldn’t that be obvious?

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Somehow it feels as though we have been here before. Think of the Leave Campaign’s battle bus during the 2016 referendum with its misleading slogan: ‘We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.’

The only thing in his favour is that Jeremy Hunt has failed to capitalise on his shortcomings

The only thing in his favour is that Jeremy Hunt has failed to capitalise on his shortcomings

The only thing in his favour is that Jeremy Hunt has failed to capitalise on his shortcomings

Can this blustering, evasive, imprecise, surprisingly depressed-looking figure really be the acme of our nation¿s hopes? Is a man who declines 23 times to answer questions about a stage-managed photo of himself and his partner, Carrie Symonds, fit to run the country?

Can this blustering, evasive, imprecise, surprisingly depressed-looking figure really be the acme of our nation¿s hopes? Is a man who declines 23 times to answer questions about a stage-managed photo of himself and his partner, Carrie Symonds, fit to run the country?

Can this blustering, evasive, imprecise, surprisingly depressed-looking figure really be the acme of our nation’s hopes? Is a man who declines 23 times to answer questions about a stage-managed photo of himself and his partner, Carrie Symonds, fit to run the country?

It was a silly and unnecessary lie, because our net contribution is still a huge figure — around £250 million a week. Yet Boris defended the falsehood at the time, and has continued to do so since, allowing his critics to accuse him of peddling untruths.

At this moment of national crisis, it behoves him to be painstakingly exact and punctilious in his statements, and not to lead the public to believe that a No Deal Brexit could be simple and straightforward.

In other words, it’s high time the old broad-brush Boris was replaced by a candid and realistic one. I know he is preoccupied with attracting the votes of Tory Party members, but he is inevitably addressing the whole country. It is a terrible mistake to engender hopes that can’t be met.

There is another aspect to his stuttering campaign that in its way is almost as alarming. The light appears to have gone out of Boris. His much-vaunted ability to instil optimism seems almost to have vanished, no doubt because his own optimism has disappeared.

Very likely this reflects his state of mind. Boris is in the throes of a divorce from a woman to whom he has been married for much of his adult life, and who was a rock to him during many difficulties.

Divorce is never easy, and in this instance it is obviously extremely painful to him.

Some of his children are said to be critical of his setting up home with a woman 24 years younger, who in age could be his daughter. I don’t know whether this relationship is as tumultuous as last week’s quarrel suggests, but it doesn’t seem to be bringing him as much happiness as one might expect.

There’s absolutely nothing any of us can do about this, of course. It is nonetheless disquieting when the usually upbeat prospective captain of the ship, whose chief political attribute is an ability to spread good cheer, is so down in the dumps.

All in all, it’s impossible not to be made despondent by the vacuity of this leadership campaign. Given Boris’s frailties, one might have expected Jeremy Hunt to have stepped into the breach, but he hasn’t yet done so.

Indeed, setting aside his generally lacklustre performance, he has been dangling spending promises (defence expenditure up by 25 per cent in five years) and pledges of cuts in corporation tax without even reaching for his pocket calculator. Boris has admittedly been doing much the same.

Such contests don’t bring out the best in any politician, and one can only hope that whichever of them is chosen — and, in view of the electorate, Boris remains the favourite, despite the upsets of recent days — will govern with his feet on the ground.

But I can’t be the only onlooker profoundly depressed by the whole shallow, misleading business. So much is at stake — our prosperity, our ability to govern ourselves, the future of the union.

One yearns for a politician with the wisdom, the courage and the vision to plot the right path — and keep a Marxist out of No 10. If only Boris were the man. Watching him over the past few days, it’s getting harder to believe he is.

link hienalouca.com

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