Boris Johnson officially launched the campaign for his Conservative party leadership bid on Wednesday, July 12th. The former mayor of London and Foreign Secretary is the frontrunner in the race to become Theresa May’s successor, according to bookmakers. Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Johnson have brought up the rear in the contest, the last of ten candidates to officially launch their campaigns for the job of Conservative party leader and prime minister ahead of the first ballot of Conservative MPs the following day.
Candidates have been declaring their intentions on political issues and appearing on talk shows and other programmes for weeks. Today’s launch event, dubbed “Back Boris”, gave Johnson the opportunity to show his face after recent accusations that he was refusing to make media appearances. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss defended Johnson, telling Radio 4's Today programme, "He has got nothing to hide. The important thing is he is talking to parliamentary colleagues."
The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg interpreted this fact as Johnson’s campaign staff spending their time “more valuably,” asking why you would do anything to mess up your advantage. As these are still early days in a contest that is likely to continue for weeks, it makes sense to try directly to get MPs on board, Kuenssberg reasons.
The only people able to vote on the next leader of the Conservative party will be its members. Party members will start the election process by voting on Thursday, June 13th but with a number of rounds to follow over the coming weeks until just two candidates remain and get put before the party membership.
Regarding his politics, Johnson said he was "not aiming for a no-deal outcome" but that leaving no deal on the table was a "vital tool of negotiation" and the UK "must do better than the current withdrawal agreement," the BBC reported.
Johnson was criticised by the media for taking only six questions from the press during the launch event, in which he was described as having avoided clear responses. Supporters, however, said he was professional and a candidate for unity.
By keeping answers vague and presenting himself as slightly more serious than usual, he seemed to have pleased his team and might have convinced his party colleagues that he is the politician with most appeal to the mainstream. Repeatedly pointing to his record as mayor of London, Johnson claimed he could “deliver prosperity while raising standards for everyone,” the Guardian’s political correspondent, Andrew Sparrow, concluded.
Other political journalists agreed with Sparrow’s impression that Johnson’s launch was about being “business-like,” as Stuart Miller from Buzzfeed put it. ITV’s Robert Peston saw Johnson’s “bandwagon” rolling on and his supporters “thrilled” but found Johnson’s appearance “uncharacteristically dull.” This was a point backed by the Financial Times’s Sebastian Payne, who wrote that Johnson’s “professionalised, even slightly dull, performance will have pleased his supporters and campaign team.”
Some of the rival candidates, including Rory Stewart and Matt Hancock, have said that they would not approve of an exit from the European Union without some sort of agreement, as leaving without a deal would cause economic disruption.