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The final countdown - the end game in Tory leadership contest

As we head into what football managers refer to as the business end of key matches, the shortlisted Tory leadership candidates are braced for the equivalent of a political penalty shoot-out: televised hustings.

While these hustings won’t directly involve votes, they can sometimes provide defining moments.


Cast your mind back to 2010, when the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg saw his rivals falling over themselves to win his support, notably Gordon Brown.

The then Labour leader repeated the phrase “I agree with Nick” so often that it took on a life of its own, leading to the slogan appearing on T-shirts, mugs and other ‘merch’.

Then there was Ed Miliband's infamous "Hell yes, I'm tough enough" when grilled by Jeremy Paxman about his ability to stand up to other international leaders. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to convince us.

On the downside, politicians have become schooled in the art of evading tricky questions.

As soon as you hear a politician utter the words “that’s a good question” you know it will be followed by them saying “but the really important question is”.

Tom Tugendhat
Tom Tugendhat

Of course voters can see through this blatant evasion for what it is but political strategists and spin doctors still regard it as an effective way of deflecting the focus away from sensitive issues.

The stakes are generally higher for leading candidates, where the margins between defeat and victory are narrow.

Accordingly, they resort to a ‘safety first’ strategy, uttering meaningless soundbites that won’t land them in trouble.

The forthcoming hustings ought to work in favour of Kent MP Tom Tugendhat, who scraped through with just 32 votes.

He has nothing to lose and no need to offer risk-free verbal platitudes, such as the one favoured by late-entrant Liz Truss.

Her repetition of the phrase that she has a “track record of delivery” began to sound like fingernails being scraped on a blackboard.

And he is right to dismiss calls for him to withdraw on the grounds that he won’t win.

Maybe not, but if the party’s rules have been followed, then why shouldn’t he participate in televised hustings?

There may yet be a twist in the competition too.

After all, who would have bet on Penny Morduant MP coming into the race late but quickly establishing herself as a favourite.

Greg Clark. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv
Greg Clark. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv
Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins
Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins

Kent MPs have, in case you have missed it, been appointed to ministerial jobs in government.

Greg Clark, Tunbridge Wells MP, has taken on the role of Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. That's the one dubbed 'minister for red wall seats' by some.

Damian Collins, Folkestone and Hythe MP, has taken on the job of Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

But how long for? It could be a matter of weeks as the incoming party leader may choose to carry out their own reshuffle.

Perhaps there will be a job for Tom Tugendhat, who has had to face criticism about his lack of experience because he has held no ministerial role. Although his 10-year stint in the army, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than compensates for this.

Rehman Chishti and Tom Tugendhat. Picture: @Rehman_Chishti
Rehman Chishti and Tom Tugendhat. Picture: @Rehman_Chishti

There is no obligation for MPs to tell us who they have backed to be the next leader – and only a handful in Kent have volunteered to share with us the candidate they have favoured.

Maybe they have been waiting to hear all candidates before deciding? Or maybe they have been deciding to decide - so to speak - before going public?

Still, there was one endorsement of note: Gillingham MP Rehman Chishti endorsed himself for his quixotic campaign to be next leader but fell short of the threshold of having 20 backers for his campaign by, er, 20.

He has since thrown his weight behind the Tugendhat campaign.

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