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Boris v. Jeremy: The Policy Breakdown

22 min read

As the Conservative leadership contest rumbles on, Dods' team of Political Consultants explain where the final two candidates stand, overlap and differ on 14 of the major policy areas the new prime minister will have to get to grips with


by Laura Hutchinson

Although both Johnson and Hunt find themselves opponents in this contest, there are a remarkable number of similarities between the two on Brexit: Hunt voted Remain but now says he would back Leave, while Johnson famously penned two columns, one for Remain and one for Leave.

Both candidates’ proposed strategies centre around the same aims: remove entirely or obtain concessions on the Irish backstop that would allow a withdrawal agreement to pass parliament, and then explore alternative arrangements to the border issue during the implementation period.

Johnson and Hunt have both signalled that they believe they have the character required to secure the necessary changes where Theresa May failed to, with Hunt referencing his background as an entrepreneur and Johnson recently stressing the importance of “positive energy about getting it done.”

Johnson has implied that the £39bn divorce payment could be withheld in order to incentivise negotiations, and Hunt has advocated bringing together a new renegotiating team including hardline Brexiters and the DUP in order to secure a “credible” Brexit plan.

The real difference in the candidates is highlighted in their ‘plan B’. Both have been careful to stress that no-deal is not their preferred outcome, but Johnson has emphasised the importance of committing to the hard deadline of 31 October, deal or no-deal. Hunt has stated that he would favour no-deal over no Brexit but would not stick rigidly to the 31 October deadline “at any cost.”

Both candidates will face a multitude of issues if they win. Firstly, the EU has repeatedly insisted the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation and the backstop is part of the agreement. The EU will not remove the backstop for a commitment that alternative arrangements on the Irish border will be explored during an implementation period in case workable alternative arrangements cannot be found. Additionally, the £39bn ‘divorce bill’ is part of the Withdrawal Agreement and refusal to pay could result in court proceedings. Finally, the majority of parliament as it currently stands are against no-deal Brexit.


Business and the economy 

by Maria Busca

The tax plans put forward by the two candidates are broadly regressive. Resolution Foundation estimates 83% of the gains from Johnson’s proposed tax cuts and NIC reductions would go to the top 10% of households. Hunt’s plan would increase disposable incomes by £560 for the richest 20% of families and £80 for the poorest 20%, according to the New Economic Foundation.

Both candidates’ pledges have raised concern from a fiscal soundness perspective, as both eat into the fiscal headroom set aside for a ‘no-deal’ scenario. With both contenders seemingly prepared to call the EU’s bluff and leave without a deal, one wonders if either is realistically preparing for the forecasted economic downturn if no-deal materialises.

Since the start of the campaign, Johnson has been at pains to prove to the business community he no longer believed in his “f*** business” remark and instead was now a champion for UK industry. Speaking of the 2008 financial crash at June’s hustings event in Birmingham, he asked “can you think of anyone who stuck up for the bankers as much as I did?” The fall of the pound upon the announcement of the results from the first round of Tory MP ballots might be an indication that bankers are not returning the favour.

With a slightly more convincing pro-business line, due to his entrepreneurial experience and lack of enthusiasm for a no-deal Brexit, Hunt promises to cut business tax and invest in entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how his tax cuts and spending increases cohere with his argument that the UK should live within its means.


Defence and security

by Nabil Rastani

As foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt has been staunchly in favour of exporting sophisticated arms to members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both involved in the ongoing situation in Yemen. While Hunt advocates a political solution to the conflict, he has reiterated his support for Saudi by stating it is a “very, very important military ally to the UK”. His support for the GCC could be pivotal in the coming months. As regional tensions continue to escalate with Iran, the UK could in turn be inadvertently drawn into a conflict in the Persian Gulf.

Boris Johnson has had a more nuanced approach on the sale of military hardware to members of the GCC. As foreign secretary he harshly criticised the conflict in Yemen, regarding it as a regional ‘proxy-war’. Nonetheless, he continued the sales of arms to the GCC.

Citing the multipolar nature of contemporary geopolitics, Hunt argued that the UK needs to enhance its hard power capacity by increasing the defence expenditure from 2% of GDP to 2.5% over the next five years, adding that this would ensure the UK is capable of “defending its interests and values”. Johnson has also pledged to increase the military expenditure and praised the UK’s historic role in NATO. Indeed, he backed a report which recommended that the UK fund its military peacekeeping missions through the international aid budget in order to reallocate reserves for the armed forces.

It is perhaps unsurprising that both candidates have pledged to dramatically increase the UK’s defence budget, on the basis of its popularity with grassroots Conservative activists; their current electorate have traditionally been supportive of enhancing the UK’s ability to facilitate power projection through its unilateral military capabilities. Time will tell if such commitments come to fruition in a post-Brexit world. 


Devolution and the regions

by Andy Frain

Boris Johnson is often referred to as a “polarising” figure, and nowhere is this description more apt than in Scotland. Such is Johnson’s perceived toxicity north of the border, he was reportedly instructed by Ruth Davidson not to attend the Scottish Conservative conference in February.

A Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times showed a majority of voters would back Scottish independence were Johnson to become prime minister and the SNP have been clear in their desire to make the most of his perceived unpopularity.

They aren’t alone in this regard – Jeremy Hunt has enthusiastically portrayed himself as the unionist candidate, dashing up to Aberdeenshire for photo opportunities with a can of Irn-Bru to proclaim that he “passionately supports the union with every drop of blood in my veins”.

Despite this, neither candidate has offered much in terms of hard policy concerning the union and they will need more than warm words to win over the staunchly anti-independence Scottish membership. 

Johnson has been more equivocal on the topic of greater support for the midlands and the north, perhaps surprisingly so for a former mayor of London. At a June hustings event, he declared that he "would like to be the prime minister who does for connectivity in the West Midlands and the Northern Powerhouse what I did for London, with Crossrail and with massive tube upgrades." 

A long-term sceptic of HS2, Johnson floated the option of "re-profiling the spend" so that construction of the northern leg of HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse Rail scheme become the top priority.

Hunt has also been keen to emphasise the importance of improving infrastructure in the north and further northern devolution, which he claimed to have been a leading advocate of as health secretary. He has suggested further devolved regional powers for housebuilding and improving online access and digital infrastructure.


Digital and technology 

by Guinevere Poncia 

Both candidates have hailed technology as a key part of their future policy plans. Johnson identified technology as a central component of his success as mayor of London, a strategy he intends to redeploy as prime minister. Meanwhile, Hunt would like the UK to become the centre of the fourth industrial revolution and an incubator of artificial intelligence technologies.

Hunt has spoken of the internet as a “massive opportunity”, however has warned it should not be a “wild west” and requires regulation, calling the lack of safeguards for children “morally wrong”. However, Hunt’s mixed record on implementing technological transformation may temper enthusiasm surrounding his ambitions. Indeed, as health secretary, Hunt’s bold pledge to make the NHS “paperless” by 2018 was quickly shown to be unrealistic, as was his promise that the UK would have “Europe’s best superfast broadband by 2015”. 

Likewise, despite Johnson’s focus on technology in his leadership pitch, and his oblique references to using ‘technology’ to ensure no physical infrastructure at the Irish border, there is little to suggest what his technology and digital policies would be. Johnson has historically voted for the retention of personal and online data as part of the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act (the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’) but has not contributed to any debates on the Online Harms White Paper. He has, however, committed to the rolling out full fibre broadband by 2025 and hailed a fast internet connection as an “indispensable tool of modern life” which could eliminate the digital divide. Providers have since demanded greater clarity on the practicalities and cost of deployment.

On 5G, Hunt has been one of the only candidates to admit that he may reconsider Theresa May’s decision to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei limited investment in the UK’s telecoms network. Comparatively, Johnson has kept quiet on the topic.



by Aaron Revel 

Education has been at the centre of public interest in the personal lives of both Tory leadership contenders. Countless column inches have been dedicated to the conduct of Boris Johnson whilst a member of the Bullingdon Club, while Jeremy Hunt’s founding of educational guidance company, Hotpoint Ltd, has also been subjected to similar scrutiny. However, less is known about their respective policy positions on the topic.

Over the course of the campaign, Johnson has labelled variations in per pupil funding as a “postcode lottery”, advocating a floor of at least £5,000 while protecting overall funding in real terms. The IFS obliquely admonished the former foreign secretary over the accuracy of this claim and suggested that efforts to reduce disparities would almost certainly necessitate reduced funding for deprivation and/or London weighting, particularly in view of his pledges on taxation. Hunt meanwhile has been more circumspect in delivering major education funding announcements. However, he demonstrated an unsurprising sympathy to the issue of mental health by insisting that all children would benefit from the necessary support in schools under his leadership.

In the higher education sector, Boris Johnson is a noteworthy signatory to his brother Jo’s amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. However, while universities will welcome commitments to a liberalised student visa regime, many will be disquieted by the prospect of no-deal’s impact on international research collaboration. As a former health secretary, one could expect Hunt to have greater sensitivity to this issue.

Their views on the Philip Augar’s recommendations will also be closely monitored. While Johnson has previously voted against tuition fee increases, and argued for them to be abolished in 2004, Hunt’s decision to scrap student nursing bursaries as health secretary and support for tuition fees suggests that he may be more wedded to the status quo in terms of funding models. Graduates will nevertheless welcome his commitment to cap interest rates on student debt and may find encouragement in plans to waive debts altogether if they start a company hiring at least ten staff.



by Alex Goodwin 

Contradictions between the pledges and actions of both Johnson and Hunt have created a lack of clarity concerning their ultimate approach to energy policy. As mayor of London, Johnson launched a scheme designed to lower bills and bolster the capital’s energy independence. When questioned on his environmental credentials, he often uses his time as mayor to prove his commitment to green energy. However, there is little evidence of these proposals being implemented and he has never made any written or spoken contributions on the matter.

Similarly, across Hunt’s extensive career in the cabinet, he has not encountered energy policy as part of his ministerial brief, resulting in a remote record of contributions concerning the sector in the House. He was rumoured to have turned down the position of Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in January 2018, suggesting greater interests in other areas.

Both candidates have promised to commit to net zero by 2050 via Twitter, with Johnson stating he would also embrace the opportunity of green growth for the UK as global decarbonisation leader. Johnson similarly endorsed a series of policy papers from Policy Exchange echoing this stance, including a recommendation to develop carbon capture and storage, while Hunt has called for “sensible tax incentives” to encourage green initiatives.

However, Johnson has almost always voted against measures designed to curtail climate change, including voting against acquiring a strategy for carbon capture and storage. Furthermore, four years ago Johnson denounced global warming in an article in the Telegraph. Hunt’s voting record also contradicts the decarbonisation narrative he has adopted, making it difficult to foreshadow what direction either candidate’s energy policy may take.



by Samuel Place 

Environment and agriculture have been the subject of Hunt and Johnson’s public pronouncements to differing degrees over the years. While his record as a columnist for the Telegraph has given us access to the former London mayor’s musings on these topics for a long time, Jeremy Hunt has been more muted, sticking to his well-defined briefs throughout his nine years in Government.

Nevertheless, Brexit has brought UK agriculture to the fore in recent years, as the future settlement outside the common agricultural and fisheries policies have captured the public imagination. Hunt has argued that leaving the EU affords the farming sector opportunities to be more sustainable by going beyond the standards mandated by the EU. This would likely involve supporting the environment bill and strengthening the newly-proposed Office for Environmental Protection so that it can regulate against harmful practices.

Johnson’s take on UK agriculture has been more consumer-focused. He has criticised ‘burdensome’ European regulations, including those that protect consumers from diseases, and pledged to deregulate farming. In his 2018 ‘Super Canada’ proposal for a future UK-EU relationship, Johnson advocated hitting zero tariffs and quotas on all goods trade. This would expose agricultural producers to the tides of global markets. Johnson said he would protect domestic producers from foreign competitors by maintaining the same levels of subsidies as under EU commitments.

On climate change, Johnson has been lambasted by the former UK special representative for climate change for overseeing “devastating” cuts to efforts to tackle the climate crisis during his tenure as foreign secretary, such as a 60% cut in the number of climate attaches. Hunt, his successor in the foreign office, recently gave a speech in Nigeria describing how the effects of climate change are fuelling conflict. Hunt has also celebrated a £153m pledge for three aid programmes focused on agricultural climate resilience in Ethiopia.


Foreign affairs and international development 

by Laura Hutchinson 

A natural disposition for diplomacy is the most distinctive difference between both candidates’ tenures as foreign secretary. Johnson’s was short, high profile and full of diplomatic blunders causing Sir Alan Duncan MP, a foreign office minister since 2016, to recently state that cleaning up after him was a “full time activity.” In contrast Hunt has, to a degree, received cross-party praise for his diplomatic efforts in his current role, although he has not been entirely exempted from mistakes himself – most notably forgetting his wife’s nationality on a state visit to China.

Their alignment on foreign policy is close: both remain loyal to the Iran nuclear deal; see Putin’s Russia as a sinister and destabilising force; have argued for the importance of close ties with Saudi Arabia; and see Brexit as an opportunity to re-assert the UK as a key power on the world stage.

Johnson has stated he sees the UK as a “world soft power superpower”, arguing that the three main aims for Global Britain are “free trade, freedom from oppression, and freedom of thought.” Hunt frequently speaks of the importance of the UK being a strong soft power but has also cautioned against over-ambition, recently asserting that “we are not a superpower and we don’t have an empire.” He has argued that the UK’s role post-Brexit is to be the “invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world.”

Johnson has previously written a foreword for a report that advocates a restructuring of UK aid in which he praises the author’s “radical thinking and reform”, whereas Hunt has spoken in favour of keeping the 0.7% commitment and is likely to be less of a ‘revolutionary’ in this area. Both candidates have vocally championed the role of education and women around the world.


Health and welfare

by Daniel Laing 

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson both have their names tied closely to the NHS for very different reasons and hold different levels of experience. The former was the longest serving health secretary in modern times, while the latter is often associated with a figure on the side of a bus.

Hunt’s time as health secretary began with a ‘steady the ship’ mission to implement the Lansley reforms, and finished with work on the NHS long-term plan. Junior doctor strikes, responding to Mid Staffs and a focus on patient safety demonstrate his tenure was not without challenge. He successfully resisted a move in the 2018 reshuffle, instead adding social care to his brief and later successfully lobbying the Treasury for increased NHS funding, demonstrating a commitment to the area beyond most. 

Understandably Johnson has been quieter on health. Perhaps supporting his previous NHS claims, the former foreign secretary used an article in the Telegraph to back the NHS long-term plan and reiterate the potential positive impact of no longer paying into EU budgets. While in cabinet Johnson made headlines by calling for discussions with Theresa May on NHS funding, reflecting his concern that the government were not taking public anxiety on the issue seriously.  At a campaign event Johnson said the NHS “needs more money” and that “it needs reform.” He suggested NHS chief Simon Stevens had got him elected as Oxford Union president and the pair would “sort things out”.

On welfare, neither candidate has made bold claims, though Hunt, a former shadow minister for disabled people, told a hustings event he would “always be ready” to consider a review of universal credit should it be required. Johnson was known for breaking rank with his party while London mayor, calling out cuts to disability benefits in both 2012 and 2016.


Home affairs 

by Andy Frain 

Jeremy Hunt’s political career in health and foreign policy has meant that he has comparatively less experience in home affairs, in contrast to Johnson’s long tenure as mayor of London.

Despite this, the two do broadly agree on one the key factors in the Brexit debate – immigration. Both have said that they would back the Government’s current Immigration Bill for a post-Brexit end to freedom of movement. Johnson has been more specific in calling for an Australian-style points system, resurrecting one of the key promises of the Vote Leave campaign.

Where they have differed is in their use of language. While his “take back control” narrative during the 2016 referendum gave Johnson a reputation – or notoriety – for being anti-immigration, he has adopted a more conciliatory tone subsequently. In the BBC leadership debate, he referenced his own varied ancestry and he described himself as a “big believer in immigration” during a TV interview. In contrast, Hunt has talked soberly about the need for a controlled and fair migration system.

The other major issue recently has been the rise in knife crime. Johnson’s comments on the topic have focused on his tenure as mayor of London and he has claimed to have halved the murder rate over his eight-year term, along with a 23% reduction to the crime rate overall. Johnson has pushed for an expansion of stop and search and pledged to increase police numbers.

Hunt has been quieter on the topic than his opponent. His major contribution during the campaign so far has been to endorse Donald Trump’s controversial criticism of Sadiq Khan, saying that he agreed with the US president “150%” on the sentiment that the current London mayor was more focused on politics than tackling crime. Hunt reneged slightly on this support when challenged on it later, emphasising his disapproval of Trump’s retweeting of the phrase “Londonistan”.


Housing and communities 

by Roisin Buckley 

Alleviating the housing crisis has a key role to play in turning around the fortunes of the Conservative party. Despite this, Boris Johnson has not put housing explicitly at the heart of his agenda - instead outlining his priorities as “education, infrastructure and technology”.

Conversely, Jeremy Hunt’s plan for winning over ‘generation rent’ includes delivering 1.5m additional new homes by 2029. Hunt claims these new homes would be specifically reserved for younger people struggling to get on the property ladder. However, it is currently unclear what policy vehicle he would use to achieve this laudable aim.

Unlike Hunt, Johnson has been responsible for housing policy before – as London mayor it was a core part of his brief. However, after eight years he left City Hall with a mixed record. Although Johnson frequently claims he surpassed Labour’s records on building affordable housing, he usually fails to mention he broadened the definition of ‘affordable’ in 2011, and almost halved the overall target for new affordable homes.

To “motivate growth” Johnson has previously suggested letting councils keep the revenue from stamp duty. He also pledged to “take on” the big eight housebuilding firms which dominate the construction industry, signalling his support for smaller, private builders, and calling for a “crack down” on land-banking.

As both candidates have spoken passionately in favour of right to buy, the full roll-out of this controversial Thatcher legacy to housing association tenants could well be in the offing. Placing his own spin on the policy, Hunt has said he would want his government to be able to offer voters the "right to own".

Both candidates have come under pressure to agree to scrap Theresa May’s much criticised right to rent scheme. 



by Hugo Fulford 

When it comes to two of the most controversial infrastructure projects in the UK – HS2 and Heathrow expansion – the final two leadership contenders have obvious differences.

On Heathrow expansion, while campaigning to be MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Boris Johnson famously claimed he would “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers" and lobbied the government to back his preferred option of the Thames Estuary Airport. However, when asked about whether he would block Heathrow expansion at a recent hustings event organised by the 1922 Committee, Johnson appeared to soften his opposition to the project, stating that expansion had already been approved by parliament. Conversely, Jeremy Hunt voted to support the expansion of Heathrow, arguing that the project would deliver a £74bn boost to the UK economy and would ensure that the UK maintained its position as a global leader in aviation.

The two frontrunners also disagree on HS2. Johnson has long signalled his opposition to the project and confirmed in ConservativeHome at the start of last month that HS2 had “a weak business case” and called for an “urgent review” to discover whether HS3/Northern Powerhouse Rail should be prioritised instead. He is reported to have told a private meeting of Conservative constituency chairs that former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee would carry out this review. Hunt however gave his unequivocal backing for the project. Affirming his support for HS2, Hunt stated: “If we are to be the best place in the world to do business we need to have a world class infrastructure, and HS2 is a key part of it”.

Some commonality between the two frontrunners is their pledge to commit to the net zero target by 2050. However, both have failed to outline role of transport in delivering this pledge.


Women and equalities 

by Sophie-Rose Feary 

Known for his use of contentious language in his Telegraph column, Boris Johnson’s stance on women and equalities is one that leaves many scratching their heads.

Although he makes headlines for his use of offensive and outdated terms when referring to gay men, African people and Muslim women in veils, Johnson’s legislative record is quite liberal.

Previously a vocal backer of gay marriage, the civil partnerships bill, repealing Section 28 and feminist movements like #MeToo, Johnson used his time as London mayor to create an independent Violence Against Women and Girls board and campaign against FGM.

Johnson’s extensive record on women and equalities, tempestuous though it may be, is a stark contrast to that of rival Jeremy Hunt.

Self-defined feminist Hunt has remained quiet on issues surrounding women and equalities, though he has recently made an effort to boost his profile on these issues. Recently he has voiced his strong support for LGBT-inclusive lessons in schools and the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which he expects to be brought forward in this parliament.

However, Hunt’s campaign was hindered when it was revealed that he voted in favour of halving the legal term limit for women to have an abortion from 24 to 12 weeks. Amid a backlash, Hunt clarified this was his personal view, and he would not seek to alter the law were he to become prime minister.

Both candidates have a mixed record but have received support from strong female voices. Hunt has received support from Penny Mordaunt and Amber Rudd, while Johnson has the backing of FGM activist Nimco Ali.

As the two candidates fight for No 10, Johnson has resisted calls to counter his previous comments instead apologising for the offence caused, whereas Hunt has actively sought to rebalance his image in an attempt to win over members.

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