Who will make it through to the next stage of the Conservative leadership election? The second ballot of MPs is today, with 33 MPs or more needed to make it through to the next round. Boris Johnson is certain to make it, and so should Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, provided they can avoid losing ground from the first ballot. But Dominic Raab, Rory Stewart and Sajid Javid all face an uphill battle to get there.
Passing the second ballot is vitally important for all the candidates because doing so means that they will bag a slot on tonight’s BBC television debate, where there is a slim possibility that one of them could transform their standing and the overall contest with a strong performance. And even if they can’t do that, the better they do today, the better placed they are to retain a cabinet post under Johnson.
The closest to survival, but in many ways the furthest from it, is Dominic Raab. Most of Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom’s backers look to be going the same way as McVey and Leadsom themselves: falling in line behind Johnson rather than backing the other remaining no dealer. A measure of Raab’s failure is the number of MPs who were pleasantly surprised when he yesterday rebuked Donald Trump for retweeting a racist attack on Sadiq Khan. Raab could have fought a more sophisticated campaign in which he talked about his own civil libertarian streak and his pre-politics past of bringing war criminals to justice, yet he has instead run as a more upmarket version of McVey. To clear 33, he only needs to gain six votes on the last ballot, but it looks unlikely.
Sajid Javid has an excellent argument for his continued participation in the race – his pitch to MPs is that he will challenge Johnson in a way that keeps the party together and ensures a focus on the economy, while highlighting that the Tory party has changed and is changing. The problem he has is that while it is easy to find Johnson-supporting MPs who agree with Javid’s case, it is hard to find Johnson-supporting MPs who are willing to back Javid.
What about Rory Stewart? He’s bagged the endorsement of another cabinet big beast – David Lidington – and despite having the furthest to come, his chances of making the second ballot aren’t entirely dead.
But what matters most about Stewart’s candidacy isn’t its continuing viability – but the very fact that it exists and could survive past the second round of voting, which highlights the number of Conservative MPs who are willing to contemplate open opposition to no deal. Despite the objections that many Conservative MPs have, an election in the autumn looks increasingly hard to avoid.