7.00: We’re wrapping this live-blog for today, at the end of what must be one of the most extraordinary days in British political history. Boris Johnson’s ten-year march on Number 10 brought to an end in a short, brutal moment – and the rest of the contest fighting for airtime with a Labour Party in the process of totally imploding.
Theresa May is the new favourite – an inauspicious sign, although she might perhaps hope that Johnson has taken the brunt of that particular curse – and the question seems for now to be which of the remaining candidates can consolidate enough support to make the ballot paper. With Johnson out and Gove badly wounded, that could very well be Andrea Leadsom. See you tomorrow.
6.00: Steve Baker, one of the leading Leave MPs and former Boris backer, has announced his support for Andrea Leadsom’s leadership bid. This could be a big boost for her campaign’s chances of consolidating the support of Leave MPs – especially with so many now ill-disposed towards Gove.
We’ve had launch statements of two of the candidates, May and Fox. With the news having quietened down a bit – apparently Corbyn’s aides are refusing to tell him his Shadow Cabinet want to see him, on the Labour side – it’s worth a quick look at how they’re positioning themselves.
- May: Playing to her strengths, the Home Secretary emphasises the need for stability and a strong economy for the rest of the Parliament: abandoning the pledge to hit a budget surplus by 2020 if it would require tax rises, ruling out an early general election, and stressing her ministerial experience. She also makes an effort to soften her image, stressing her commitment to ‘One Nation’ conservatism and elsewhere abandoning for the moment her plans to withdraw from the ECHR.
- Fox: The one-time Defence Secretary also attempts to broaden his appeal, posing as the champion of small shopkeepers and inter-generational justice. He highlights his background as a doctor before hinting at future boldness on healthcare, shifting the focus of policy from provision to outcomes. Fox also takes the time to outline a few ideas for party reform, such as an independent chairman directly elected by the membership.
Some specific themes present in both pieces:
- Both candidates highlight, as Crabb did yesterday, the need for the Conservative and Unionist Party to rise to the challenge currently being posed by separatists in Scotland and Northern Ireland. How they do this is going to matter: the vacuum caused by the Prime Minister’s announced departure has handed Sturgeon and Adams the initiative, and the winner will be presented with no end of proposals from every quarter. Can they turn warm words about the Union into a plan to save it?
- David Cameron’s influence on the race may lie in the emphasis both May and Fox – both usually viewed as on the party right – lay on ‘One Nation’ politics. For Fox, that means bringing society together by championing common values, recognising that hope and aspiration are vital to getting people out of poverty, a fairer deal for younger people, and a capitalism that works for small businesses rather than well-connected corporations. For May, it meant a list of causes her government would tackle, including the under-performance of white working-class boys, the continuing disadvantages of state educated children, and women’s pay.
4.30: The Gove-Johnson psychodrama is soaking up most of the attention the press are paying to the Tory leadership race at the moment, as Labour’s ongoing meltdown continues to go toe-to-toe with the contest to lead the UK for news attention.
- This striking video shows the moment that some of the former Mayor’s supporters found out he wasn’t running – at his launch event. Iain Martin has described Johnson as brought down by a “cuckoo in the nest” plot.
- Meanwhile the Home Secretary seems to have stolen another march on her rivals. Guido reports that Theresa May is first out of the blocks on the social media front, with a campaign site as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts.
- Hard-core Remainers are starting to talk about blocking Brexit in the courts, or delaying and fudging towards a de facto ‘Breversal’. More important by the day that candidates develop clear, unambiguous plans for effecting Brexit.
- Just one example of the ongoing shambles: Jeremy Corbyn’s office just released a statement in which they misspelled his own name.
3.30pm: Henry here, taking over the live blog. Labour are doing their level best to keep the Conservatives out of the news with an astonishing spree of high-profile self-harm stories, but here’s the latest.
- Gove’s defenestration of Johnson seems to be undermining his own leadership efforts – several journalists are reporting that he may have serious – and quite predictable – trust issues with Conservative MPs after this.
- All of this is squeezing Crabb off the news agenda and highlighting May’s contrasting position: solid team, solid record, minimal drama. With Boris out and Gove wounded that vote may end up consolidating around Leadsom – producing an all-female finale without any special provisions at all.
- However, Jacob Rees-Mogg has apparently switched to him, having previously backed the former Mayor. Amber Rudd – who famously described Johnson as the sort of man you wouldn’t want driving you home – has declared for May.
- Astonishingly, even on a day like this Labour are tenaciously clinging to the top of the hourly news agenda. MPs still divided over how to despose Corbyn – Angela Eagle’s leadership bid having been postponed – but the drum-beat of resignations hasn’t stopped.
- Meanwhile Emma Reynolds, the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party’s (PLP) health committee, has contained to the general secretary about McDonnell setting up a ‘secret group’ of NHS advisers.
- While the fighting continues, Theresa May is still making steady progress on our list of MP endorsements – she now has 64, more than halfway to the minimum required to get into the final two. Harriet Baldwin is her latest recruit.
- The FT’s George Parker has provided a more detailed account of how relations between Johnson and Gove. In it, he reports that while Gove told Lynton Crosby of his decision at 8.30 this morning, “he could not get through” to his former ally before announcing his decision at 9am.
- There’s no sign of an end to people gunning for Gove. That negative briefing to ITV has continued, while the broadcasters have been replaying footage of him declaring he doesn’t want to – or isn’t able to – be Prime Minister. That said, Philip Cowley has dug out a 1973 quote in which Thatcher said exactly the same thing…
- There isn’t yet a clear sign of how Leave MPs are splitting since Johnson withdrew. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who was quoted this morning as favouring either him or May, has just announced she’s going for Gove. Martin Vickers, one of the core Better Off Out MPs, has declared for Leadsom.
- Interestingly, Isabel Hardman reports that Team Gove are saying their man jumped ship because had failed to offer jobs to, among others, Leadsom. Has he Gove done so – and did she decide to fight on alone instead?
- The fallout from ‘Borixit’ continues. ITV has been told that Gove subedited Johnson’s controversial Telegraph column – given that it caused a lot of worry among Leaver MPs, and led to an apology, that briefing appears to be a revenge strike against the Justice Secretary. As expected, Leadsom is making a move to scoop up Leavers who are now seeking a new candidate to back – she just made the case for the next leader to have supported Leave, while remaining diplomatic about both Johnson and Gove.
- Anna Soubry – never knowingly not outspoken – has been on the World at One, explaining she is supporting May because she wants a female Prime Minister: “perhaps we’ve had enough of these boys messing about”. That’s unlikely to woo the overwhelmingly male Parliamentary Party – plenty of whom feel they lost out from Cameron’s enthusiasm for promoting more women.
- Meanwhile, it says a lot about Jeremy Corbyn that despite everything that’s going on in the Government, Labour’s implosion continues. The Chakrabarti inquiry reported back this morning. Particular lowlights include Corbyn himself comparing Israel to ISIS, and a Jewish Labour MP leaving the event in tears after an activist accused her of colluding disloyally with the Conservative press. That rather puts today’s Tory leadership events into perspective.
1pm: Latest news
Mark Wallace here, taking over from Paul. A few thoughts on where we now stand:
- Politics is a brutal business, as this morning illustrated. The corpse of Johnson’s campaign is still warm, but his rivals are already picking it over for any endorsements they might gain. The question is where those MPs will now go. As we’ve already reported, May is already picking some up – but it’s entirely possible that others will decamp to Leadsom or Fox, particularly as both are Leavers. Aside from the EU angle, some Johnson loyalists may also be wondering about the best way to get back at Gove – might there even be a chance that Leadsom could unseat him as May’s main rival?
- May is the main beneficiary. Her twin themes from this morning’s speech – certainty and stability – were no doubt chosen before the Gove news broke, but they are now even more crucial. If those running it are wise, her campaign will now take great care to be the home of calm confidence – the more her opponents scrap among themselves, the more it highlights her central message.
- How will Crabb get back into the story? Yesterday’s launch was a positive one, and was well-received. But now the headlines are all about Gove and May. Having used his launch speech to attack Boris, then the front-runner (how long ago that already feels!) he now has to distinguish himself in a very different field to the one he anticipated.
- He says of the next leader that “that person will not be me”. So ends ten long years, or more, of his advance on the Conservative leadership – two terms as Mayor of London, with the biggest personal electoral mandate in the country; and terms as an MP in different seats.
- Some former Johnson supporters are apparently moving to May. Tom Newton-Dunn cites Kwasi Kwarteng. As matters stand, it looks good for her. A bit of a sense now of MPs clambering aboard what they believe to be is a winning bandwagon.
- Johnson’s greatest achievement was probably fronting Vote Leave. Without his projection and razzamattaz, it might not have got off the ground, would certainly have had no frontman – and might not have pulled it off. In the end, his leadership ambitions, always central to him, became entangled in Leave, which wasn’t.
- It’s being reported that Gove didn’t tell Johnson that he was withdrawing his support, and that the first Johnson heard of it was via the media.
- Jeremy Hunt has let it be known that he won’t stand
- Nicky Morgan isn’t either – and is supporting Gove. A Remainer backs a Leaver – striking that she isn’t backing either May or perhaps especially Stephen Crabb.
- There’s speculation that Johnson will now back May. Echoes of John Redwood lining up with Ken Clarke against William Hague in 1997.
- We now have four pro-Leave candidates (Fox, Gove, Johnson and Leadsom) and two pro-Remain ones (May and Crabb). Given May’s standing in the YouGov poll, her relatively buoyant numbers among MPs – she is now in the lead – and her strong launch this morning, these latest developments look good for her candidacy.
- The Conservative Party has gone through a long period with a united leadership at the top – David Cameron and George Osborne. Crabb took a sideswipe at Johnson yesterday, with his gibe about not waiting to pick up a rugby ball at the back of the scrum. May today openly mocked his abilities. She and Gove are on tense terms. None of this looks good for the blue corner.
- Perhaps May, Gove, Johnson or someone else will power their way through these difficulties and provide coherent, effective government. But a time when the country needs a united Governent and an effective opposition it has neither.
First, what’s happened.
- Michael Gove has broken with Boris Johnson and is to stand for the leadership himself.
- Theresa May has launched her campaign this morning.
- Liam Fox is to launch his later today.
- And Andrea Leadsom has announced that she is to stand for the leadership too.
Second, why it happened – or some it, anyway.
- Camp Gove came to believe that Johnson was prepared to backtrack on Brexit, and seek gradually to reverse the referendum decision if he became Prime Minister. Sarah Vine’s famous e-mail leaked yesterday, urging her husband to pin Johnson down over policy, was a sign of this.
- The confusion about Johnson’s position was exacerbated by the chaotic handling of his Daily Telegraph column on Monday, which seemed to suggest that a Johnson-led Government would ease up on lower immigration. Friends of Gove claim that since the Vote Leave campaign folded, the management of Johnson’s campaign has been chaotic – and that, in particular, he refused to allow his Telegraph to be vetted in advance. One described his draft speech for the launch today as “completely incoherent”.
- Finally, this morning’s YouGov poll of Party activists has confirmed what some increasingly believe at Westminster and what our own recent survey suggested – namely, that May is in a far stronger position among them that was previously believed.
Third, a question.
- Given the bomb that Gove has exploded under Johnson’s campaign, will the latter stand at all – since much of his Parliamentary support was from friends and allies of the Justice Secretary? Guido Fawkes is tweeting that Johnson may pull out. We will find out soon enough: his campaign launch is due within the hour.