Rory Stewart's surge is upending the Conservative leadership race — but to whose benefit?

The International Development Secretary has secured the backing of another cabinet heavyweight.

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Rory Stewart has picked up another big-name endorsement: that of David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister and a former backer of Matt Hancock.

It’s, obviously, a big win for Stewart himself. He has picked up another cabinet heavyweight to go along with David Gauke, the Justice Secretary. It compounds a disastrous 24 hours for Hancock: the Health Secretary opted to put aside his many vocal criticisms of Boris Johnson to endorse him in the hope of securing favourable treatment, but in the end has seen his influence shattered because he could not deliver the support of even a majority of those to have backed him, let alone the biggest names available.

It’s a troubling sign for other candidates in the chasing pack: this is the kind of big name endorsement that Sajid Javid, who needs to pick up the support of 10 more MPs if he is to survive into the next round, needs to be pulling over to his side. It’s a boost to Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, both clear of the 33-MP mark necessary for survival in this round: provided, of course, that they don’t lose ground.

Also in trouble is Dominic Raab; the bulk of the support for the two defeated Brexiteers, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom, is flowing to Johnson directly and he may well also be eliminated.

The fear for Hunt and Gove is that they can feel increasingly confident that Stewart’s stronger than expected bid has put Hancock out of the race and now may well do the same to Javid. But the same dynamic that is boosting Stewart may come to bear on them, too, and that dynamic is this: if, as looks likely, Boris Johnson is an inevitability, you might as well pick the candidate who most embodies what you believe, rather than thinking about which candidate is most likely to stop him.  Javid’s problem today might well become Hunt and Gove’s.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.