John Connolly John Connolly

The downside of Mark Harper’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ approach

One of the major problems facing the less well-known Tory leadership contenders is this: how do you stand out to Conservative members and MPs when there are so many other candidates? With ten contenders still fighting to be prime minister, even Cabinet members seeking to boost their publicity have been forced to rely on gimmicks, whether it’s Rory Stewart wandering around Kew Gardens pretending to shoot hand-held videos, or Matt Hancock handing out free waffles and phone chargers at his campaign launch.

Former chief whip and immigration minister Mark Harper meanwhile decided to opt for honesty at the start of his campaign this morning. In an event entitled ‘Ask Me Anything’, Harper said he would open himself up to the floor, promising to ‘actually answer’ the questions which were put to him.

As the least familiar candidate – and when several of his colleagues have come under fire for their own shaky relationship with the truth – it was not the worst strategy. It gave Harper a clear platform to speak about his background, his Brexit strategy and his vision for the country.

Harper tried to use his low profile as an asset. He said his lack of public persona meant that he had done a good job as chief whip when he served under David Cameron and that the country was looking for the ‘fresh approach’ he provided. He sought to distance himself from his leadership rivals, who he said all shared responsibility for the current Brexit impasse because:

‘Everyone else in this race has at same point over the last three years been sat around the cabinet table, and has participated in decisions that have led to not leaving the European Union three years after that referendum.’

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