Tory ‘vanity candidates’ urged to quit
Johnson supporter calls on lower-placed rivals to drop out after front-runner tops first round of voting
Gordon Rayner, Steven Swinford
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.
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.
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.
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’