Tory ‘van­ity can­di­dates’ urged to quit

John­son sup­porter calls on lower-placed ri­vals to drop out after front-runner tops first round of vot­ing

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By and

Gor­don Rayner, Steven Swin­ford

Anna Mikhailova

BORIS JOHN­SON’S sup­port­ers have called on “van­ity can­di­dates” to drop out of the Tory lead­er­ship race to speed up the process of se­lect­ing the next prime min­is­ter.

The for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary was backed by 114 Tory MPS in the first round of vot­ing yes­ter­day – 71 more than his near­est ri­val, Jeremy Hunt.

Seven of the 10 can­di­dates went through to the next round of vot­ing, but the weak­est four to re­main in the con­test only man­aged 89 votes be­tween them. They came un­der pres­sure to pull out so the field can be whit­tled down to the fi­nal two dur­ing the sec­ond vote next Tuesday. The Daily Tele­graph understand­s that Matt Han­cock, the Health Sec­re­tary, is dis­cussing with his back­ers whether to pull out and throw his weight be­hind his long-time friend Sa­jid Javid.

If Mr Han­cock’s 20 sup­port­ers all switched to the Home Sec­re­tary, it would give him 43 votes, putting him neck and neck with Mr Hunt. Mr Han­cock said his 20 votes were “more than I could have hoped for”.

Michael Gove’s cam­paign was in trou­ble after he came a dis­tant third and some of his back­ers said they would switch to the front-runner.

The En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary, once seen as the most likely chal­lenger to Mr John­son, man­aged just 37 votes after his cam­paign lost mo­men­tum in the wake of his co­caine use confession.

With only six weeks left un­til Par­lia­ment’s sum­mer re­cess, Tory MPS are im­pa­tient to choose a new leader so that progress can be made to en­able Bri­tain to leave the EU be­fore Oct 31.

Es­ther Mcvey, An­drea Lead­som and Mark Harper were all elim­i­nated after fail­ing to se­cure the re­quired num­ber of votes to make it to the sec­ond round, and only three – Mr John­son, Mr Hunt and Mr Gove – have enough votes to pass the thresh­old of 33 needed to get through to the third stage. Dominic Raab re­ceived 27 votes, Mr Javid 23, Mr Han­cock 20 and Rory Stew­art 19.

One prom­i­nent sup­porter of Mr John­son de­scribed the four men as “van­ity” can­di­dates, adding: “The race is be­tween Boris, Hunt and Gove. Any­one else who tries to carry on is be­ing in­dul­gent.”

The for­mer Lon­don mayor now has more than a third of MPS back­ing him, guar­an­tee­ing him a place in the fi­nal two un­less his sup­port­ers desert him.

If next Tuesday’s vote was just be­tween three hope­fuls, it would mean the fi­nal two would be known on that day, en­abling the party to pro­ceed straight away to the sec­ond phase of the con­test, when party mem­bers pick the win­ner fol­low­ing a se­ries of hus­tings events around the coun­try. The cur­rent sched­ule means vot­ing among MPS will con­tinue un­til next Thurs­day. An­other well-known name who is back­ing Mr John­son said: “The hon­est truth is that most of the other can­di­dates have done much worse than they would have ex­pected, and their sup­port­ers will start peel­ing away to back some­one who has a re­al­is­tic chance of mak­ing it to the fi­nal two.

“The best thing they could do now is to duck out, oth­er­wise they could face the hu­mil­i­a­tion of their num­bers ac­tu­ally go­ing down in the next vote.

“I don’t think you will see all seven can­di­dates still in the race by Tuesday.”

How­ever, the re­main­ing can­di­dates in­sisted the fight re­mained wide open.

The first tele­vised hus­tings will take place on Sun­day evening, when at least five of the sur­vivors are ex­pected to face off on Chan­nel 4. Mr John­son and Mr Hunt have yet to con­firm they will take part, but the other con­tenders be­lieve they can use the event to build mo­men­tum and over­take Mr Hunt.

Sup­port­ers of Mr Hunt in­sisted he had made a “strong start” de­spite win­ning the sup­port of only one in seven MPS. Mr Hunt is now 8-1 with Lad­brokes book­mak­ers to be­come the next Tory leader, with Mr John­son 1-5 on and Mr Stew­art third favourite at 16-1.

Mr Stew­art has be­come the dark horse of the race after im­press­ing with his in­no­va­tive so­cial me­dia cam­paign, in which he in­vited the public to in­ter­ro­gate him in the street.

A poll of party mem­bers by the Con­ser­va­tive Home web­site showed Mr Stew­art was now the sec­ond-favourite with the grass­roots after Mr John­son.

Mar­ginal can­di­dates came un­der ad­di­tional pres­sure to drop out after the party said the fi­nal two will need to pay £150,000 each to­wards the cost of na­tion­wide hus­tings. This will be in ad­di­tion to their in­di­vid­ual cam­paign costs, which are capped at £150,000.

Mr John­son and Mr Hunt have raised more than £100,000 each since April, while Mr Javid and Mr Stew­art reg­is­tered only half as much.

It may look like a done deal, with Boris John­son hav­ing hoovered up 114 votes in the first round of the Tory lead­er­ship race, yet if his­tory is any­thing to go by, Mr John­son’s sup­port­ers would be un­wise to be com­pla­cent with only one favourite ever be­ing elected leader in the re­cent his­tory of the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Michael Gove may be now de­scribed as the “sell­ing share” with just 37 votes fol­low­ing rev­e­la­tions of his his­toric co­caine use, which left him in third place be­hind Jeremy Hunt on 43, but the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary and his sup­port­ers could prove in­stru­men­tal in elect­ing the next prime min­is­ter if he is pushed out of the con­test.

Sim­i­larly, with Matt Han­cock’s cam­paign also ap­pear­ing to have stalled on 20 votes, and Sa­jid Javid at­tract­ing fewer sup­port­ers than he would have hoped on 23, dark horse Rory Stew­art now ap­pears to be the one to watch after Es­ther Mcvey, Mark Harper, and An­drea Lead­som were forced to pull out yes­ter­day.

With the bat­tle very much on for sec­ond place, here we war game sev­eral sce­nar­ios to try to pre­dict what may happen when Tory MPS vote for the sec­ond time on Tuesday. Can­di­dates need at least 33 votes to go through to the third round or face elim­i­na­tion.

Run­away Boris

Since An­drea Lead­som and Es­ther Mcvey are both staunch Brex­i­teers, their sup­port­ers are likely to fall in be­hind Mr John­son or Dominic Raab. Yet although Mr Raab’s cam­paign team wants him to stay in the race, with 27 votes he still needs to find six sup­port­ers to make it through the sec­ond round. Although Mrs Lead­som and Mr Raab are de­scribed as “close”, some have ques­tioned why some­one as am­bi­tious as the for­mer keader of the House would back the for­mer Brexit sec­re­tary when he ap­pears to have lit­tle chance of mak­ing it into the fi­nal two, let alone win the en­dorse­ment of the party’s 160,000 mem­bers over grass­roots favourite Mr John­son. Yet hav­ing de­cided to stand against both Mr John­son and Mr Gove in the 2016 lead­er­ship race, Mrs Lead­som may not be able to bring her­self to sup­port ei­ther. She was also said to be an­gry that Mr Gove ap­peared to keep tak­ing the credit for the Pizza Club meet­ings be­tween Brex­i­teer Cab­i­net mem­bers that she hosted in her par­lia­men­tary of­fice.

With sources close to Ms Mcvey con­fi­dent she will “back Boris”, the for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary could pick up all of her nine sup­port­ers as well as most of “Lead­som’s XI”. One Tory MP told The Daily Tele­graph: “Es­ther will do a deal with Boris but An­drea’s a tricky one.”

Re­mainer turned re-leaver Mark Harper’s sup­port­ers are even trick­ier to pre­dict, be­ing from var­i­ous wings of the party. Mr Gove could ben­e­fit if Mr Harper’s 10 cheer­lead­ers want to back an­other can­di­date who is willing to ex­tend Brexit be­yond Oct 31, as he had also promised.

Hav­ing only re­ceived 23 votes in the first round, spec­u­la­tion was mount­ing last night that “Re­mainer turned strong Leaver” Mr Javid may fall in be­hind Mr John­son in a bid to se­cure an­other Cab­i­net post – although the Back Boris cam­paign team in­sists “no jobs have been of­fered”. Sim­i­larly, should Mr Raab back out of the race then his Leave cre­den­tials sug­gest it is al­most in­evitable that he would switch his sup­port to Mr John­son along with most of his sup­port­ers. “If any of the Brex­i­teers back out, then Boris ben­e­fits, it’s as sim­ple as that,” said one John­son sup­porter.

Two-horse race

The book­ies cur­rently have Mr Han­cock at 6/4 to with­draw be­fore 1pm to­day with Mr Javid close be­hind at 2/1 and Mr Raab at 5/1. The most likely sce­nario is that this would then make way for their Cab­i­net colleague Mr Hunt to go head to head with Mr John­son. Tory in­sid­ers think it is more likely mod­er­ate re­main­ers will back Mr Hunt than Mr Gove due to con­cerns over that lat­ter’s ten­dency to­wards treach­ery and his ap­par­ent lack of ap­peal to the elec­torate. Although Mr Hunt doesn’t poll half as well as Mr John­son in Tory fo­cus groups, his states­man­like de­meanour and longevity as health sec­re­tary has won him plau­dits with col­leagues. How­ever, Mr Han­cock is re­ported to have been “fu­ri­ous” when Am­ber Rudd al­legedly came out in sup­port of Mr Hunt hav­ing ini­tially pledged her sup­port to his suc­ces­sor at the De­part­ment of Health. There had also been talk of her en­ter­ing into a pact with Mr John­son, dubbed “Bam­ber”.

Mr Gove’s chances of mak­ing it into the fi­nal two would also di­min­ish if Mr Han­cock with­drew and threw his weight be­hind his fel­low One Na­tion Tory, Mr Javid. But the “Any­one But Boris” fac­tor also means you can­not com­pletely write off Mr Gove. Staunch Re­main­ers who want to take a no-deal exit off the ta­ble are more likely to back him than Mr Hunt be­cause they be­lieve he is the only one who can truly give Mr John­son a run for his money in the forth­com­ing TV de­bates and hus­tings. They are also con­cerned that the Tory mem­ber­ship might per­ceive Mr Hunt as “Con­ti­nu­ity May” – even though they are des­per­ate to avoid a two horse race be­tween a pair of Brex­i­teers.

Rise of a dark horse

With Rory Stew­art un­ex­pect­edly win­ning the so­cial me­dia war among the fi­nal seven, could the In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Sec­re­tary end up be­ing the chief ben­e­fi­ciary of Mr Gove’s an­tic­i­pated demise? Hav­ing gained mo­men­tum thanks to his Twit­ter videos and punchy broad­cast clips, Mr Stew­art is fast be­ing touted as the only “real” Re­mainer ca­pa­ble of tak­ing on Mr John­son’s pop­ulist pro-brexit rhetoric. His cam­paign re­ceived a welcome boost yes­ter­day when he jumped to sec­ond place in Con­ser­va­tive Home’s poll of pre­ferred prime ministers ahead of third placed Mr Raab, Mr Gove in fourth and Mr Hunt in fifth. Should Mr Gove be forced to pull out of the race and his largely Re­main sup­port­ers switch to Mr Stew­art, that could have the po­ten­tial of propelling the Old Eto­nian into sur­prise third place with over 40 votes.

Yet who would Mr Gove’s smaller ca­bal of Leave sup­port­ers vote for if he was out of the race? Ac­cord­ing to one Tory MP: “Lots of Gove peo­ple who are Leavers said they’d only stay with him after the first round and if he was in front of Hunt. This is when we see the vul­tures descend­ing on the car­casses in a bid for sur­vival. If you’re a Leaver, you wouldn’t switch to Raab but to Boris. The coke stuff has re­ally spooked Gove’s peo­ple”.

But is opium-smok­ing Mr Stew­art the so­lu­tion, hav­ing threat­ened to “bring down Boris” if he prom­ises to pro­rogue par­lia­ment? One Brex­i­teer MP was doubt­ful: “If you’re a Re­mainer with a brain in your head then you don’t back Rory, you back Hunt.” Mr Gove surely has lit­tle choice but to back Mr Hunt against Mr John­son hav­ing spent most of his cam­paign slag­ging off his fel­low for­mer Vote Leave fig­ure­head.

Boris be­ware

Although cur­rently the firm favourite, Mr John­son would be wise to heed the lessons of the past when it comes to pre­serv­ing pole po­si­tion. With crit­ics warn­ing that the gaffe-prone for­mer Lon­don mayor is “only a banana skin away from disaster”, be­ing backed by the book­ies might turn out to be a bad omen for Boris. Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem for se­lect­ing Con­ser­va­tive lead­ers, which has been in place since 1965, only one ini­tial favourite has ever won – Michael Howard, who was elected un­op­posed in 2003. Mr John­son was the favourite to win in 2016 and we all know how that turned out. The front-runner only has a 50:50 suc­cess rate in pre­vi­ous Tory lead­er­ship elec­tions. Nei­ther Wil­liam Hague in 1997, nor Iain Dun­can Smith in 2001 nor David Cameron in 2005 came top of the first bal­lot, but all went on to even­tu­ally win the lead­er­ship.

Mr John­son should be­ware of opponents scat­ter­ing their sup­port among his ri­vals, or even worse – back­ing an anti-boris can­di­date such as Mr Stew­art who sud­denly gains mo­men­tum and turns it into an­other Brexit versus Re­main bat­tle.

The youth­ful pact

Hav­ing de­scribed Mr John­son as “yes­ter­day’s man” com­pared to his own “change” can­di­dacy, could Mr Javid de­cide to club to­gether with younger ri­vals such as Mr Han­cock, Mr Raab and even “blue col­lar Con­ser­va­tive” cam­paigner Ms Mcvey in a bid to breathe new life into their be­lea­guered party? While many may view the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship con­test as a bat­tle be­tween Brexit and Re­main, many MPS in the 2015-17 in­take talk in the tea room of the “gen­er­a­tional di­vide” be­tween the Thatcherit­e Tory old guard and David Cameron’s breed of One Na­tion Tories.

Of course, the only trou­ble with this sce­nario is who might lead a pha­lanx of fresh faces? While Mr Javid has the most ex­pe­ri­ence and best back story, with 27 votes to his 23, and Mr Han­cock’s 20, Mr Raab is ahead of the pack. More­over, can such a di­verse bunch of Leavers and Re­main­ers come to­gether for the com­mon good of their party? The di­vi­sion and de­struc­tion caused by Theresa May’s With­drawal Agree­ment sug­gests that this wish­ful think­ing sce­nario may amount to noth­ing more than youth­ful ide­al­ism.

‘If you’re a Re­mainer with a brain in your head then you don’t back Rory, you back Hunt’

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