Now it is time to listen to the Tory grassroot support, says TIM NEWARK

Sixteen hustings over four weeks is a vital process that should make both prime ministerial candidates aware of exactly how ordinary Conservative supporters feel across the nation.

For too long they have been ignored and belittled by an arrogant leadership that has lurched from crisis to crisis, bringing their party to near electoral annihilation.

Clearly it was wrong for Theresa May to be shoehorned into the top job without facing the people who do all the hard work of doorstep campaigning.

It gave all the impression of a Remainer coup with no popular mandate for her premiership even among her own party members.

The result was three wasted years and considerable damage to the reputation of the Conservative Party.

The rot set in a decade earlier when David Cameron and his liberal modernisers decided to ditch the inheritance of Margaret Thatcher and project a softer, supposedly more caring image.

Subsequently the Tories haemorrhaged votes to Ukip and barely scraped into coalition with the Lib-Dems.

Having made that mistake once, it is extraordinary that Theresa May and her accolytes did the same.

Unsurprisingly Nigel Farage was there yet again to scoop up the votes of disaffected Tories in his quickly assembled Brexit Party.

How many times does this have to happen before the men and women in grey suits get the message they need to get out of the Westminster bubble and listen to their own backers? If they can't even win naturally Tory votes, they're sure as hell not going to convince the rest of the country.

This month then is crucial for both leadership contenders to spend their time smiling and listening to the people they hope will keep them in Downing Street.

Jeremy Hunt has considerable charm and a good track-record as minister at the NHS for paying attention to what is actually going on there.

A friend of mine who sat next to him at dinner said he was the only politician she knew who actually looked at her rather than searching the room for someone more important.

Growing in maturity in each new ministerial role he takes on, he is a key cabinet player.

I just wonder at his ability to reach out beyond core Tories to those who have deserted them for the Brexit Party or who are traditional working class voters tempted to ditch Corbyn and his increasingly radical middle class Marxists.

Astonishingly he is even posher than Boris.

The son of Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt, he is a descendant of Sir Streynsham Master, a pioneering figure of the East India Company.

Head boy at Charterhouse and then studying PPE at Oxford, he is a fully paid up member of the metropolitan liberal elite and voted Remain in 2016.The richest member of the Cabinet, he made his fortune from educational publishing.

Boris too has made a good chunk of money out of his own efforts and enjoyed the privilege of an elite education. Like Jeremy he is very much a social liberal and was a keen participant in David Cameron's attempt to supposedly de-toxify the party.

The main difference between the two is that Boris can deliver amusing common sense rhetoric that chimes with the antiestablishment mood of many people in this country. It's what makes him sound a little like US President Donald Trump and he is ambitious enough to know that a bit of populism can go a long way these days.

But is he a liberal sheep dressed in wolf's clothing? He may well disappoint many people's hopes for a tougher leader to deal with Brexit and other challenges we face in this country. If he bungles it, he will destroy not only his own career but the Conservative Party.

IT WAS heartening to see this week that Hunt might be able to give Johnson a run for his money, surprising many by backing Trump's Twitter criticism of Sadiq Khan.

He might not use the same language, he argued, but he shared the disappointment "that we have a Mayor of London who has completely failed to tackle knife crime and has spent more time on politics than the actual business of making Londoners safer and in that I 150% agree with the president."

More fighting words like that will go down very well with the Tory party membership over the next few weeks.

I only hope that having talked the talk, the winning candidate will be able to walk the walk and finally deliver a decisive Brexit that will make this country prosperous and respected abroad.

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