WITH scattergun promises of pay rises and tax cuts plus the demonisation of nasty “Marxist” Labour and the even nastier “separatist” SNP, you know we must be in the midst of a Tory leadership race.

The beauty contest to succeed the Maybot, or as Nicola Sturgeon lovingly described it the “horror show,” is well underway with several campaign launches.

The focus quite understandably given the weekend revelations about his cocaine experiment was on Michael Gove, who launched his bid for power on the 28th floor of the Millbank Tower in London. “Could we get any higher?” one wag quipped.

But as has been pointed out, it was not so much that the Environment Secretary perpetrated a criminal act by taking drugs 20 years ago but at the time Mr Gove railed against the liberal elite taking drugs that affected the lives of others less well-off. When, of course, he was snorting the stuff himself.

Mr Gove did his best to brush aside the drug questions, saying, when as Lord Chancellor he was in charge of England’s justice system, he had reflected on his past mistakes and was determined to help those less fortunate caught up in the justice system to “achieve redemption and enjoy a second chance”.

But one cannot help feeling for all his upbeat presentation at his campaign launch, his bid for power is holed below the waterline. Bookies have dramatically slashed his odds.

By contrast, Jeremy Hunt, who denies he is “Theresa May in trousers,” was able to reveal not one but two major endorsements when Amber Rudd was the warm-up act at his campaign launch and, to gasps of delight, Penny Mordaunt appeared to give her support.

The Foreign Secretary now appears to be the stop Boris candidate and could end up in the final run-off.

Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock launched their campaigns to a lesser fanfare while Esther McVey during hers had to contend with an angry protester storming the stage, denouncing her as a "fake Conservative".

But, of course, the one person absent from the campaign scene was the one his rivals were all having a pop at: Boris.

Despite another no-show, Mr Johnson was able to grab the headlines by announcing a tax cut policy aimed directly at Middle England, which would put more money into the pockets of middle earners, including pensioners, who, of course, are the bedrock of any Conservative election campaign.

Yet, what Bozza appears to have overlooked – or perhaps he just doesn’t care – is that his plan will not only mean a greater differential between Scottish and English taxpayers but also by partially paying for his £10 billion plan by raising UKwide National Insurance Contributions, then Scots will be stumping up for tax cuts in England.

Given Mr J dislikes how Scotland gets a higher rate of public spending, he might consider his tax plan as payback. But as some colleagues gently pointed out such a proposal would hardly help endear Scots to the Union.