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  1. Election 2024
18 March 2015

Dominic Raab’s backers will now decide who makes it to the next round of the Tory leadership

By Patrick Maguire

Who will win Dominic Raab’s 30 votes? As the contenders for the Conservative leadership head into the third ballot of MPs, the answer to that question will determine who survives. The scrap for the last place in the fourth round is between Sajid Javid, who squeaked home with the 33 votes required to progress, and Rory Stewart, who surged from 19 to an impressive 37.

But is it a fight between equals? Yes, Stewart nearly doubled his first round vote and, on the face of it, has all the momentum. But just as significant as the spike in his support are the things that didn’t happen yesterday. Neither Jeremy Hunt nor Michael Gove lost any support, and despite staking his entire candidacy on making last night’s BBC debate, the International Development Secretary admitted that he didn’t produce the sort of game-changing performance his supporters had expected. It isn’t hard to see why many MPs believe he has hit his ceiling.

Javid, on the other hand, was probably the only candidate who could plausibly argue that they had a good debate, as I argue in more detail here. After a sluggish opening 40 minutes – which, frankly, was the fault of a format unsuited to the size of the field – the Home Secretary came to life, as he made a habit of doing all too late in this contest. He made an articulate argument for Boris Johnson’s plan for tax cuts, bounced his rivals into agreeing to an independent investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and left Stewart badly exposed on his failure to condemn Donald Trump’s attack on Sadiq Khan.

Add to that the fact that Javid put on ten votes between the first and second ballot – more than Hunt, Gove and Raab combined – and it is easy to see why his team are chipper despite their last place finish. Having also stressed his commitment to leaving with or without a deal on 31 October last night, Javid is in a much better position than Stewart to mop up support from Raab’s largely Brexity coalition of supporters. Four have already declared for Johnson, who is now the only safe harbour for Leave ultras (given Gove has said he will not pursue no-deal against the will of Parliament). Number crunchers in the European Research Group nonetheless reckon as many as half of Raab’s backers could swing behind Javid.

But regardless of whether he falls at this next hurdle, it is Stewart’s bid that will ultimately define the premiership of whoever succeeds Theresa May. 37 Tory MPs have chosen to back him despite the certainty of failure – and the fact that doing so means sacrificing any chance of advancement under Boris Johnson. That tells us that the breadth, depth and intensity of opposition to no-deal on the Tory benches is much greater and much more militant than it ever looked under May. And no contender, let alone the favourite, has yet explained how they are going to deal with it.

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