As Boris’s team should have predicted, the BBC, via Emily Maitlis, attacked Boris throughout the Tory leadership debate. So did its coverage the following morning. ‘Words are actions,’ said Nick Robinson on Today, sententiously editorialising. ‘Again and again Boris Johnson gets his words wrong.’ Up duly pop Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Heathrow airport expansion and the precise wording of the promise to leave on 31 October — all licensed to do so by the weak decision to let Boris go on.
Such debates are structured against Conservatives and conservatism. The actual electorate in this contest will not instinctively defer to a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Glasgow who tells us we should condemn this country to extreme and pointless poverty by achieving ‘zero-carbon’ by 2025. But the ‘optics’ of the programme made it impossible for the candidates to say that. Instead they all grovelled to the poor, indoctrinated, non-voting child, each striving to seem greener than the other.
Similarly, when confronted by Abdullah Patel, the mufti from Bristol, the candidates were in no position to know whether he is a moderate Muslim or one of the not insignificant number who denounce Jews, want women covered up etc. So when Mufti Patel complained of Islamophobia, Sajid Javid, who, I know for a fact, is extremely suspicious of the very concept, proposed an independent inquiry into the alleged problem in the Tory party. All the other candidates — including Michael Gove, who utterly opposes the idea — cravenly agreed. Mr Javid thus lost the chance to mark himself out as the proud, integrated Muslim citizen of this country not chained by grievance politics that he actually is.
If he had seized the moment to say this, he would have improved his chances of reaching the final run-off, but he didn’t dare, because of the fundamentally hostile environment of the BBC. The next morning, clever old Guido Fawkes found tweets from Mufti Patel — a retweet which wants to relocate Israel to the middle of the United States and a tweet which complains that ‘Every political figure on the Zionist’s [sic] payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn’. So the anti-Islamophobe is also an anti-Semite. By then, of course, the damage had been done.
This article is an extract from Charles Moore's Spectator Notes, which will be published in this week's magazine.