This week, I found myself meeting with some bright young centrist political advisors and there was only one topic in town. Who will win the Lib Dem leadership? Only kidding. It’s all about Boris Johnson, innit.
Or is it? To be fair, Rory Stewart has managed the rare feat of getting cut through in a very crowded field as he ambles around the country like a wee political Paddington Bear.
But he at least is banging the drum for a saner strain of politics which Britain clearly needs at the moment. But is that what Britain wants? Probably not.
My friends have a different theory. They told me that very senior Tory moderates believe that once elected as leader, Johnson could tack left to the centre and even deliver a Norway-style Brexit. I almost fell off my chair. But they were adamant.
Their arguments: Johnson is a secret liberal, the last Tory majority in 2015 was under a more centrist vision and he is prone to flip-flop. Now, the last bit I can get behind. Consistency and truth have never been his strong suit, but I think my friends are wrong about the other stuff.
Johnson is defined by Brexit. He helped win the vote, he fronted the fake news bus and it gave him the platform upon which his leadership will be secured – the howl of betrayal.
Brexit is the only thing that matters in this contest. It shouldn’t be, but it is. The Tory voters ain’t choosing someone strong on housing or childcare. Get real. It’s an arms race on Brexit. Politicians often campaign in poetry and govern in prose (or Latin in Johnson’s case) but I can’t see even someone as who is as shameless as Johnson promise a hard Brexit then serve up something nice and soft with soldier dippers on the side.
Then there’s the hope that somehow, moderate politics will win the day. I get it. My centrist friends have good intentions, but they are falling prey to wishful thinking from the London bubble. Projecting what we want to happen, rather than what’s actually happening out there. This is why people keep getting it wrong – just look at Change UK.
I’m no fan of Boris Johnson. Aside from his unsavoury character, anyone who uses some of the most marginal people in society, Muslim women, as a punch bag to curry favour in a scary culture war is pretty grim.
But I knew he was going to be the next leader of the Tories; not because I have mystic powers like Paul the octopus (RIP) but because I got out of London and people said that they were sick of leaders who all looked the same and sounded the same. That they couldn’t tell any of the parties apart. That they liked seeing a socialist Labour party which was going back to its roots and that they wanted the Tories to do the same. They wanted a general election between Red Labour and true-blue Tories led by Johnson.
I clutched my pearls on the doorstep, but I can’t deny it. People have a thirst for polarised, populist politics to disrupt the status quo which has failed them. We centrists have to stop being so naïve and hoping against hope.