Theresa May has secured a crushing victory in the first round of voting by Conservative MPs, taking 165 – exactly half of the parliamentary party. Way back with 66 MPs is Andrea Leadsom, a junior energy minister, in second place, while Michael Gove is in third place with 48 MPs. Stephen Crabb is in fourth with 34 MPs. Liam Fox, who secured the support of just 16 MPs, is eliminated. MPs will vote again on Thursday as they narrow down the field to a shortlist of two.
Although the rules of the Conservative party leadership election allow a candidate to be elected without a membership ballot if they have overwhelming support within the parliamentary party, May is believed to favour a ballot. Allies believe that, having called for one when Michael Howard became leader without one in 2003, it would be politically difficult for her to forgo one now.
But the question of who she will face in the final round remains unclear. Although Leadsom is ahead of Gove, the potential for tactical voting by May’s supporters, and for Crabb to drop out, directing his supporters to Gove, is high. In any case, Team May will be bolstered by a second successive YouGov poll for the Times, showing her well ahead of all her potential rivals.