Boris Johnson has consolidated his lead among Conservative MPs in the second ballot of MPs, as Dominic Raab was eliminated from the contest, while Rory Stewart surged to fourth place.
The former foreign secretary went up from 114 MPs in the first round to 126 in the second, while Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove barely flickered upwards, up three to 46 and four to 41. Sajid Javid gained the support of ten MPs to just meet the criteria for survival (33 MPs). But the surprise package was Rory Stewart, the International Development Secretary, who went from just 19 votes in the first round to 37 in the second.
The big winners of this round were, of course, Johnson, who has further entrenched himself as the frontrunner. The win will further boost his campaign’s carrot and stick approach to wooing MPs. The carrot is their argument that he is the most electable of the candidates and to back him is to maximize Tory hopes at the next election. The stick is that he is the inevitable winner and to oppose him is to court political oblivion.
In a further boost to Johnson, Raab, the only candidate with a harder Brexit position than the former mayor of London, has been eliminated and will not go forward to the televised debate this evening. He will find it less difficult than he otherwise would have to avoid having his position too sharply defined. He also has the major advantage now that whatever happens, the Brexit ultras have no plausible lifeboats left in the race: Gove is the only Brexiteer remaining and he has refused to countenance a no deal exit without Parliament’s backing.
As for Gove himself, while both he and Jeremy Hunt will be disappointed that they gained so little ground, he is better placed to gain support in the next round. Raab’s supporters are largely made up of Brexiteers who distrust any Remainer and Brexiteers with specific doubts about Johnson’s competence. Both groups may now decide it is better to be on the Johnson train rather than under it but if they vote with their hearts then the Environment Secretary is better placed to win them over.
As for Sajid Javid, his survival means that he can exit this race with his credentials unharmed. Unlike Matt Hancock an endorsement of Boris Johnson will look less inauthentic and he is more likely to be able to carry his supporters over. He may decide to stick around but he can do so knowing that whatever happens his tilt at the top job has not been a disaster for him politically.
The big winner is Rory Stewart, however. He now gets a shot at that big televised debate, where he could yet transform the whole contest. His candidacy may well be reaching its ceiling of support and Johnson’s big lead among MPs means he will be well-placed to choose his preferred opponent, who will not be Stewart.
But even should he fall short at the next hurdle, he ends this contest as the de facto leader of the Conservative opponents of no deal: and as someone who, albeit from the backbenches, will be a major voice in the Brexit debates.