The responses to Boris Johnson’s absence from the Tory leadership debate were brutal

The responses to Boris Johnson’s absence from the Tory leadership debate were brutal

As the Tory leadership race drags on towards its inevitably dire conclusion, frontrunner Boris Johnson appears to be employing a tactic less “divide and conquer”, more “hide and conquer”.

His conspicuous absence at Channel 4’s first televised debate on Sunday night was highlighted by an empty podium at the centre of the five other candidates – who were not alone in picking apart the former foreign secretary’s absence.

Adding fuel to an accusation by Sky News' Adam Boulton that he was cynically pitting news organisations against each other, Mr Johnson gave the BBC’s “World at One” this excuse on Friday, as he confirmed he would speak in a debate hosted by the public broadcaster:

I think it is important that we have a sensible grown-up debate.

My own observation is that in the past when you've had loads of candidates, it can be slightly cacophonous and I think the public have had quite a lot of blue-on-blue action frankly over the last three years.

But did he actually mean this?

While by far the most likely reason for his absence is that, after pulling way out into the lead in the first round of votes he's been advised to keep opportunities to put his foot in it to a bare minimum (a highly advisable strategy given his track record, to be fair), it didn't stop people throwing out some brutal and insightful theories.

Some of the more tame responses came from his colleagues taking part in the debate – after taunts from host Krishnan Guru-Murthy that it wasn't too late to get a taxi, Jeremy Hunt and Rory Stewart took their turns.

Certain sections of the commentariat were quick to point out the timing of the debate.

Or because he's scared someone might ask him this:

While some sympathised with Mr Johnson's hiding tactic, many thought it spoke volumes.

Meanwhile, someone might want to remind him of this:

However, perhaps the most savage take of all implied that, apart from the empty lectern, his absence was barely felt.

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