The independent London newspaper

Camden Tories call for unity but remain divided over Boris Johnson leadership bid

Leader of Camden Conservatives would back Dominic Raab or Sajid Javid for No. 10

24 May, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Boris Johnson

CAMDEN’S leading Conservatives have called for party unity in the wake of Theresa May’s announcement that she will step down as Prime Minister next month.

There was no rush locally, however, to endorse the market favourite to replace her, with Boris Johnson’s front-running leadership bid dividing opinion.

Ms May, who has repeatedly failed to get her Brexit withdrawal deal through the House of Commons, stood outside Number 10 earlier to confirm June 7 will be her last day in Downing Street.

Several possible contenders to succeed her are in the frame but Mr Johnson, the former mayor of London who backed the United Kingdom’s divorce from Europe, has emerged as the man to beat. MPs will reduce a cast of hopefuls to two, before handing over the contest to the wider party membership for a run-off.

Councillor Oliver Cooper, the leader of the Conservative group in Camden, told the New Journal that he would support former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab or Home Secretary Sajid Javid, adding: “Both are serious thinkers and doers, and have the sort of pro-free market, socially liberal views that are where the country is, and the Conservative Party needs to be.”

Oliver Cooper

His deputy Councillor Gio Spinella, who broke the party whip earlier this year to support a council motion calling for a second referendum on Brexit, said he did not know who he would vote for but would lean towards Mr Javid, “with maybe Michael Gove as an outlier.”

He said: “Any hardcore ERGer [Brexit-supporting European Research Group] would be unacceptable to me. We need an actual leadership contest where we can hear what the candidates have to say. Unfortunately, the way my party works, the large field will be whittled down to two by the parliamentary party before the members have their say – so we have to hope the MPs will reflect very closely on their choice.”

Theresa May’s time is up

Although the Conservatives lost seats at last year’s council elections in Camden and have lost ground to Labour in recent parliamentary elections, it still has nearly 1,000 members locally. The growing likelihood of Ms May’s resignation and a leadership contest over the last 12 months has seen more people sign up. Only those who have been a member for at least three months will be able to take part, however.

Cllr Spinella said: “It should be someone capable of speaking to both sides of this terrible leave-remain divide, who won’t bang on about the 17.4 million, forgetting the 16.2 million. Someone who can bring my party back on track towards that liberal reformist, right of centre project started by David Cameron.”

Gio Spinella: ‘No ERGer’

Henry Newman, the high-profile councillor in Frognal who is a regular television pundit on politics and Brexit, said he would reveal his preferred successor, but not just yet.

”The most important thing is to have a Prime Minister who can unify the Conservative Party and unify this country,” he said this evening.”I’ll say more about who I will support in due course but for now I want to pay tribute to Theresa May’s dedication and public service.”

Mr Johnson, who went to Primrose Hill primary school as a young child and was a regular visitor to the borough during his time as the city’s mayor, was being quoted as a 5/6 favourite among bookmakers pricing up the leadership contest today, followed in the market by Mr Raab, Mr Gove and Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary.

Despite the lack of endorsement from either the leader or the deputy leader of the party locally, Mr Johnson does have some cheerleaders among the local membership.

Will Blair, the former chairman of the Holborn and St Pancras constituency and twice a parliamentary candidate, said Mr Johnson had the “star quality” to come next.

“The PM’s demise has demonstrated what many of us felt from the start, that only someone who passionately believes in it can untie the Gordian knot of delivering Brexit. Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt fit that bill and would make excellent PMs,” he said.

“However, the only candidate who has the star power and leadership to drive through Brexit and allow the country to finally move on to tackle our many pressing domestic challenges is Boris Johnson. Socially liberal, his one nation vision and values won him two strong mandates as London Mayor, in an overwhelmingly left of centre city. He is also the only one who can defeat Jeremy Corbyn in a General Election, and save our country from the very real threat of a dangerous, Marxist Government.”


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