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A Look At The United Kingdom's Race For Prime Minister


Two men are competing to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. The front-runner has been in the spotlight a lot over the last decade. Boris Johnson was mayor of London, foreign secretary and member of Parliament. He is known for being brash, theatrical and over-the-top. In a recent debate, he was asked what he admires about his opponent.


BORIS JOHNSON: I greatly admire his ability to change his mind.

SHAPIRO: That opponent is Jeremy Hunt. He is viewed as an underdog in this race. And to tell us more about him, British radio host and political commentator Iain Dale joins us now from London.



SHAPIRO: Well, I described Boris Johnson as being brash, theatrical and over the top. If you were to choose three comparable terms to describe Jeremy Hunt, what would you say?

DALE: Steady, competent - I can't think of a third one.

SHAPIRO: Well, those both sound like relatively good things, and yet he is struggling in this campaign. Why do you think that is?

DALE: Well, it's a bit like Ronald Reagan versus Walter Mondale in 1984. You do have this guy with a massive character, maybe not known for his grasp of the detail but able to build a team to do the detailed work for him.

SHAPIRO: That would be Boris Johnson.

DALE: That would be Boris Johnson or Ronald Reagan. And then on the other side, you've got this rather interesting character who was a very successful businessman. He's seen as a nice guy but seen by some as - not dull exactly but obviously not as charismatic as Boris Johnson.

So he has risen up the ranks in the Conservative Party. He was health secretary for six years before he was promoted to be foreign secretary. So it is a competition of contrast, really. You've got the charismatic candidate versus the competent candidate.

SHAPIRO: The main issue in this race is Brexit. How much daylight is there between the two men on how they would handle the U.K.'s departure from the European Union?

DALE: In actual fact, there isn't a massive gap between them. Boris Johnson wants to impose a hard deadline of October 31. We have to be out by then, otherwise, he says, nobody will trust the Conservative Party again because it has taken over three years to extricate Britain from the European Union.

SHAPIRO: And that's whether or not there is a deal - leave on October 31 whether or not.

DALE: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Now, Jeremy Hunt initially was ridiculing Boris Johnson from that. But he's kind of come around to that in a slightly different way. He says if there is no prospect of a deal with the European Union by the 30 of September, then he will take us out with no deal on the 31 of October.

Now, I have to say, a lot of Conservative Party members don't really believe him on that because they think Boris Johnson feels Brexit in his gut, whereas Jeremy Hunt is a late convert because he actually voted to remain in the EU back in 2016.

SHAPIRO: Is it fair to say that while Boris Johnson would be a sharp turn away from the sort of cautious, negotiating style of Theresa May, the previous prime minister, that Jeremy Hunt would be something closer to what we've seen in the last couple of years?

DALE: Well, that's Jeremy Hunt's real problem in that people see him as Theresa May in trousers. And there is an element of that when he talks about it because although he said he would abandon the agreement that she has secured, I suspect that when it comes down to it, he would tweak it.

SHAPIRO: Jeremy Hunt has been widely praised for his government service in very senior roles. Do you think he deserves to be trailing as far behind Boris Johnson in the polls as he is?

DALE: I never trust these particular polls because...

SHAPIRO: With good reason. They said the U.K. was not going to leave the European Union. They said Hillary Clinton was going to defeat Donald Trump, et cetera.

DALE: It is said that Boris Johnson might win 75% to 25%, not sure that I believe that. I think he is ahead. But Jeremy Hunt is not that well known. He's been foreign secretary for just over a year now. He's seen as having done a good job, a competent job. But if you went round and said to people, what does Jeremy Hunt believe? They would scratch their heads a little bit. That's not quite the same with Boris Johnson.

And I think when you have got this slight celebrity and superstardom, that inevitably means that you are going to be seen as an election winner. And what Conservatives overwhelmingly want, they want to pick a winner. They've been fed up with the last three years of a government that has just lurched from crisis to crisis with no leadership, really, no sign of where they're going.

And at least Boris Johnson - and he did it in this debate a couple of nights ago - he exuded optimism and just sort of rounded on defeatism. And Jeremy Hunt's big mistake in that debate was to accuse Boris Johnson of peddling optimism, I mean, as if that's a crime.

SHAPIRO: And if Jeremy Hunt wins, how much of an upset would that be?

DALE: It'll be a huge upset. The only person now that can defeat Boris Johnson is Boris Johnson himself if there was some cataclysmic disaster that envelops the campaign. I think he probably is going to come through. But the margin of victory will be quite crucial because if it's a big margin of victory, he will have almost total power to form his government in the way that he wants. Whereas if it's a marginal victory, he will have to include Jeremy Hunt in a big senior role and a lot of his supporters, too.

SHAPIRO: British radio host and political commentator Iain Dale speaking with us from London. Thank you very much.

DALE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.