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This will be a contest, not a coronation, if Jeremy Hunt questions Boris Johnson’s character

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The announcement that Jeremy Hunt would be the other finalist in the Tory leadership contest was greeted with a cheer from Boris Johnson’s campaign team and sighs of disappointment among political journalists. Many of my colleagues were salivating over the prospect of a final battle involving Michael Gove. A Gove-Johnson face-off had rich potential to turn into a spectacularly vicious bout of all-in mud wrestling between the two Brexiters. A Hunt-Johnson contest appears, at least at first sight, to offer a much less compelling spectacle, leading to a much more predictable ending.

“God knows how we got that many,” remarked a member of the Hunt campaign team when their candidate just squeaked into second place in the ultimate ballot of MPs. We don’t have to go to God for the answer to that one. As I predicted they would in this space last week, the Johnson team moved around some of their votes to get Mr Hunt into the final because he is their preferred opponent.

On the face of it, his chances of winning look as slight as Afghanistan’s hopes of lifting the Cricket World Cup. His rival has the support of more than twice as many MPs. Mr Johnson is overwhelmingly more popular with the Tory membership, an audience that is predominantly white, male, southerly, affluent, very Brexity and much keener on the former foreign secretary who campaigned to leave the EU than the current holder of the office who did the opposite.

What can Mr Hunt do about this? If his main interest is self-preservation, the cowardly option is to bow to what may seem like the inevitable and not endeavour to make it a proper contest. We will know he is taking this course if he goes easy on his rival, pulling his punches in the hope that not jabbing at the other man’s many vulnerable flanks will be rewarded with a plum post in the Johnson cabinet. We must hope that Mr Hunt possesses more self-respect than this; that he wants to do more than spend the next four weeks tramping around the country being the train-bearer to King Bozza as he swaggers towards a coronation.

This contest is an opportunity to kick the tyres, inspect the engine and check the brakes of the men who want to be Britain’s next prime minister. It is a deeply unsatisfactory process, from which the vast majority........

© The Guardian