Power Up The North and why Boris Johnson and his Tory chums spell bad news here – Andrew Vine

Boris Johnson is favourite to be the next Prime Minister but is no friend of the North, says Andrew Vine.
Boris Johnson is favourite to be the next Prime Minister but is no friend of the North, says Andrew Vine.
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THE race to become the next Prime Minister might just be the strangest run for the top job the country has seen.

That’s because the candidates are talking less to the people of Britain, in all their uncertainty and division, than to the tiniest of electorates which seems especially out of touch with many of us in the North.

Would Boris Johnson make a good Prime Minister?

Would Boris Johnson make a good Prime Minister?

North needs more than empty words – Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu

This is a campaign targeted at just 124,000 voters – the nationwide membership of the Conservative Party – which amounts to about a quarter of one per cent of the UK electorate of 47m people.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s successor warned: Power Up The North before it is too late

Strange enough in itself that such a small number of people – who may not even all vote – should decide who leads the country.

Power Up The North by creating a dedicated Minister for the North and devolution – Chris Haskins

But almost equally strange is how the leading candidates to succeed Theresa May are also out of touch with the concerns of vast swathes of Britain’s people.

If this was a campaign to become Mayor of London, then Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab would be credible candidates, all having seats in or around the capital.

But Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Sorry, the last thing we need is an irredeemably metropolitan figure, which all are. Each is characterised by careers and ambitions that have been relentlessly focused on London and the South East.

For them, that’s where the real action is. The rest of the country is just an add-on, the other, lesser bits that don’t matter so much.

Our part of the world ought to be concerned about this, and yesterday’s launch of the Power Up the North collaboration between this newspaper and others is a reminder of how badly-served and unfairly treated the region has been.

There is a risk that by temperament and record the leading candidates will incline towards a renewed focus on London – issues of regional neglect won’t be uppermost in the minds of a Conservative Party member in a Home Counties constituency deciding who gets the key to Number 10.

To possibly most of the 124,000 mulling over their choice, the long-overdue rebalancing of the economy between North and South is a matter way down the agenda behind who can out-swagger Nigel Farage, or rattle his or her sabre most menacingly at the EU over Brexit.

Yet the MPs who whittle down the list of candidates to the final two, and then the grassroots members who decide between them, need to ask themselves how the rest of the country is going to react to whoever they choose, and the London-centric nature of the candidates is bound up with those questions.

Which of them can persuade disaffected Conservative votes in Yorkshire’s towns and cities to back the party when an election comes, after the drubbing it suffered at the European poll last month?

Or who is able to reach out to moderate Labour voters uneasy at the party’s direction under Jeremy Corbyn?

Polling of Conservatives gives an unequivocal answer to both – Boris Johnson, whose talent for self-promotion has persuaded many in the party that he’s a politician with the magical gift of broad appeal, which has made him the bookies’ favourite to win.

Such polling is further proof that the tiny electorate beginning the process of making a decision that affects the more than 60m people of Britain is out of touch.

They may have stars in their eyes over the practised charisma, and be thrilled that Donald Trump seems to back him, but they are not thinking straight.

Even if it was possible to overlook his record in office – an indifferent Mayor London and a dismal Foreign Secretary – or the slipperiness that makes him so mistrusted by his fellow Tory MPs, it takes a mighty leap of faith for anybody to believe he is the unifying figure that Britain needs.

On the contrary, his tub-thumping for Brexit and association with the mendacity of the Leave campaign’s claims over NHS funding make him one of the most divisive politicians in Britain.

If anyone thinks that Mr Johnson will play well with the voters of an industrial area in Yorkshire, or has any understanding of the challenges they and their communities face, they are much mistaken.

It defies belief that a man whose entire political life has been bound up with London is overnight going to be transformed into a champion of the North, putting to rights the failings of transport or giving Yorkshire the devolved powers it needs.

It’s just another measure of how strange a contest is under way to be Prime Minister that a politician likely to make the divisions besetting Britain even worse than they already are is seen as the best option by those who might give him the job.