Geoff Lawler: Boris Johnson will divide Tories - and betray Yorkshire

Tory members will struggle to support Boris Johnson, warns former MP Geoff Lawler.
Tory members will struggle to support Boris Johnson, warns former MP Geoff Lawler.
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FORMER Tory MP Geoff Lawler says Boris Johnson has put self-interest first – and will not champion Yorkshire - if he becomes Tory leader and PM. Here’s why.

EVERY new MP is given the maxim that the order of your priorities as an elected representative, and not a delegate, is constituency; country; party.

It was David Cameron forgetting this, and putting the interests of the Conservative Party above those of the country, that has been his undoing.

He called a referendum for which there was no public demand, Europe always was well down the list of the public’s concerns in all polls, to seek to appease Eurosceptics in his own Party and see off any potential slide of Tory voters to Ukip.

Now, despite his many significant achievements, he is leaving office just over a year after winning a stunning mandate with the legacy that he will remembered above anything else for being the Prime Minister who took us out of the EU, divided the country and potentially caused the break up of the United Kingdom.

If Cameron put party before country, Boris Johnson has gone one step further and put his own interests before those of the country.

His admittance that he penned two equally persuasive articles arguing the cases for and against being in the EU demonstrates his somewhat distant relationship with principles.

Could it be that if thought that the majority of Conservative Party members were in favour of staying the EU, so would he?

His apparent confusion over exactly what future arrangements we should have with the EU, especially over the single market and immigration, demonstrated in his statements post Brexit further underline just how shallow his convictions are.

To say in a recent article “It is said that those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration. I do not believe that is so” when he spent a great deal of the campaign racheting up people’s concerns over immigration shows a rewriting of history of which Joseph Stalin would be proud.

It also shows how out of touch he is with the North where, from all my time on the campaign, showed that immigration was the number one issue for those wanting to vote to leave the EU.

Johnson has always prided himself on bringing together voters from all parties and none as proved by winning two mayoral elections in a Labour-centric London.

How far that appeal extends beyond cosmopolitan, metropolitan London to the rest of the country, especially the North, is questionable.

Johnson has never shown any interest in the North and has strongly pushed the case for Government support for Crossrail 2 in London, even before Crossrail 1, is open and certainly before work has even begun on the major infrastructure improvements, such as the Trans-Pennine rail link, promised in the North.

Post the referendum though his support base even in London has been seriously undermined.

Talking to Conservative voters who supported Remain, especially those in London who previously backed Boris, there is strong resentment for the crucial role he played in taking the UK out of the EU.

They are vehement that they would not vote Conservative if he is the leader.

There has been a surge in applications to join the Conservative Party post-Brexit, especially in London, and knowing of some myself, many, if not most of these, will be people wanting to be able to vote against Johnson being the party leader.

He and party members under-estimate just how damaged and divisive he has become at their peril.

The beneficiaries of this will be the Liberal Democrats who are enjoying an even larger surge in membership. Many of those who switched from the Liberal Democrats to vote Conservative at the last election in seats across the South West and outer London who will be moderate, pro-EU and anti-Johnson will revert to Tim Farron’s party given his pledge that the Liberal Democrats will fight the next election on a platform of taking the UK back into the EU.

It is conceivable that the Tories will lose many of the seats that they gained as the Liberal Democrats are thrown a lifeline.

Although at the next election, especially if it is within the next six months or so, Labour would be at peril of losing some Northern seats to Ukip and suffer elsewhere because of its disarray, it could win enough seats under a new leader to combine with a resurgent Liberal Democrat party to form a Lab-Lib coalition. One certain outcome of that would be a change to the voting system to bring in AV without a referendum. That could keep the Conservatives out of majority Government for a very long time.

The task for Conservative members is to consider which candidate will best avoid this fate and is most likely to unite the country, not just between the remainers and outers, young and old but also across all four nations to ensure we stay together as a United Kingdom. They need to

revert to the maxim, country before party.

Geoff Lawler is a former Conservative MP for Bradford. He runs a public affairs company in Leeds.