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Boris Johnson backed by KentOnline readers to become new Prime Minister

By Paul Francis

Boris Johnson is the clear favourite to succeed Theresa May as the next leader of the Conservative party according to a poll of Kent Online readers.

Close to half of those taking part want the former foreign secretary installed at Downing Street after Theresa May confirmed her resignation from the job of leading the county.

He is way ahead of his possible rivals, with Michael Gove second placed, marginally ahead of Mr Raab.

WATCH: Tom Tugendhat backs Michael Gove as next Tory leader

Boris Johnson in Ramsgate
Boris Johnson in Ramsgate

But while ‘Bojo’ enjoys support among voters, he has yet to get the endorsement of any of the county’s MPs including one who supported his candidacy back in 2015.

Gareth Johnson Dartford MP said he would be backing the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab who created headlines when he admitted in 2018 that he “hadn’t quite understood” the importance of the Dover to Calais crossing.

Mr Johnson said: "He has the ability to unite leavers and remainers and has the intelligence to do the job.

"It is a difficult time for us and we need someone with those abilities."

Tom Tugendha has also revealed who he is backing

Maidstone MP Helen Grant also backed Mr Raab, saying: "Dominic Raab has an inspiring vision for a fairer Britain and I think he is the best person to unite the party and the country. That is why I am supporting him to become our next prime minister and I am very proud to do so.

"Dominic believes everyone should get a fair shot in life and the opportunity to make the best of their talents, which is something I am passionate about.”

Political Editor Paul Francis assesses Theresa May’s term in office and the challenges ahead for the Conservative party:

Few Prime Ministers vacate Downing Street on their own terms but the departure of Theresa May sets a new benchmark.

There are inevitable parallels with Margaret Thatcher. She too dug in obdurately in the face of a growing clamour for her to go.

Mrs May has similarly resisted, limpet like, almost to the point at which she could have ended up being physically pulled and dragged out of Number 10 by the men in grey suits.

Theresa May has announced her resignation (11062672)
Theresa May has announced her resignation (11062672)

As political dramas go, this has been one of the most extraordinary and it has all revolved around Brexit.

When she became PM, she said that under her leadership “Brexit means Brexit” - an unambiguous declaration of intent that drew plaudits.

As did her pledge to help the “jams” - the “just about managing” voters who she said had been overlooked by government.

Kent’s Conservative MPs rallied behind her and she ended up as leader by way of a coronation rather than an election.

She rewarded her close ally Damian Green, the Ashford MP, with a ministerial role as work and pensions secretary; Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon was defence secretary; Greg Clark, the Tunbridge Wells MP, business secretary.

With a slim majority, however, there was concern over whether the government would be able to deliver Brexit. Having previously dismissed the idea, she decided to go to the country and called an election to secure a firmer mandate.

It was a disastrous miscalculation. Support for Jeremy Corbyn was far greater than had been expected; the Conservative mantra of a “strong and stable” government” only succeeded in acting as an irritant. She ended up with a net loss of 13 seats - worse than before - and from that point, the wheels slowly started to come off the wagon.

Ashford MP Damian Green has always been an ally for Theresa May
Ashford MP Damian Green has always been an ally for Theresa May

The election result was bad enough but she seemed dogged by bad luck. A keynote conference speech was a disaster as she coughed and spluttered through her text, adding to a growing feeling her authority was diminishing and she was becoming a liability.

Delivering Brexit began to dominate the political agenda but it quickly became apparent the task of building a consensus in her own party was going to be far more difficult than many envisaged.

The much vaunted Chequers deal agreed by her cabinet in July 2018 unravelled almost immediately with the resignations of Boris Johnson and the Brexit Secretary David Davis.

It was a portent of things to come. May endeavored to keep Brexit on track in the face of almost constant opposition from elements within her own party.

When it came to putting forward the first version of the deal for a meaningful vote, her critics in the parliamentary party helped inflict what was one of the heaviest defeats suffered by any Prime Minister.

Two further efforts were similarly rebuffed, each defeat adding to the growing sense that time was running out.

She tried to buy time by agreeing that she would stand aside once the first phase of Brexit was completed.

That too failed to appease her critics.

Her decision to invite Labour to take part in talks alienated many party loyalists, already unhappy about the lack of progress. The final straw for many was the suggestion that once there was agreement over the Withdrawal Bill, MPs would have the chance to call for a referendum.

Was she the worst Prime Minister we have had? She certainly had her flaws but she also faced the intractable problem of trying to get agreement on an issue that has blighted and vexed the party she led for three years.

Perhaps her tenure at Downing Street may, in time, be viewed in a better light than it is now. Whoever does succeed her will have to confront the fact that there remains a schism in the party on an issue that proved beyond Mrs May.

Political reconciliation seems a distant prospect just now but would-be successors will have to articulate how they intend to square the Brexit circle.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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