On Thursday night, Mark Field assaulted a Greenpeace activist whilst she protested an event he was at. The obvious point, that it was unacceptable behaviour, has been made over and over again by both the press and agitated commenters on social media. I’m instead going to talk about how Field’s behaviour could affect our politics in the future.
For those of you that missed it, an MP assaulted a protestor. Greenpeace activist Janet Barker was part of a group who rushed into Mansion House whilst Phillip Hammond gave his annual update on the state of the british economy. The protestors were peacefully handing out leaflets and attempting to make their own speech.
We’ll no doubt hear takes on this from the two remaining competitors for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. I expect that Hunt will condemn the aggression, whilst Johnson will support Field. This issue may well be the deciding factor in who becomes our next prime minister.
Hunt and Field have an odd history. Whilst Field is one of the 54 MPs who voted for Hunt over Johnson, who collected 143 votes from his colleagues, he has also recently forcibly kissed Hunt’s wife. Whilst Hunt’s desire for the top job was sufficient to prevent him from making a scene about it at the time, he has now made it to the final round of the leadership election and no longer requires Field’s support.
Johnson and Hunt are about to face the Conservative Party membership, and will likely respond to Field’s most recent altercation in the way that they think will be most likely to win them that election. It’s widely acknowledged that the Tory membership are right wing, reactionary and, well, conservative, but they’ve delivered surprising results before. In 2005, more than two thirds of them voted for the supposed liberal moderniser David Cameron over Tory stalwart David Davis.
There’s little doubt in my mind that Johnson will take Field’s side. His approach throughout this competition has been to move right and see off the threat posed by the Brexit Party, and it would be a surprise if he stopped now. Hunt on the other hand has found himself cast as the ‘liberal’ candidate, and may well condemn Field’s behaviour to solidify that image. He certainly has nothing to gain by trying to be more right wing than Johnson, and his personal problems with Field might be the deciding factor that causes him to take a stand.
Ultimately, this is an event that will be far more than just a deciding factor in the Tory leadership race. It will have repercussions beyond even its role in deciding our next prime minister. If Johnson becomes PM as a result of moving rightwards, embracing hard Brexit and supporting violence against protestors it will signal to the rest of the Conservative MPs that they should follow suit if they want to keep their jobs. That kind of sea change in the political landscape of Britain would not end well for any of us.
Words by Charley Weldrick