- On our count, 96 Conservative MPs are supporting Theresa May. She is over 70 votes clear of her nearest rival. Other estimates are very similar. 166 Tory MPs are undeclared. In an imaginary world, she might gain the support of none of them, and they might then divide neatly up between two of her five rivals – thus keeping her out of the final two candidates to go before the membership (just about). In the real world, this isn’t going to happen. The Home Secretary looks unstoppable as she moves towards the final.
- Liam Fox has seven declared voters. It is hard to see how he makes the last two from that base (though admittedly, in this contest, anything can happen).
- Michael Gove has 20 backers. He delivered a brilliant, sweeping, social justice manifesto yesterday. But Tory MPs are likely to base their view of his candidacy not so much on the measures, but on the man. After this week’s events they are, for better or worse, unlikely to take a kindly one.
- Stephen Crabb has 21 supporters. Most of them are from the 2010 and 2015 intakes, which now represent roughly half the Parliamentary Party. He may draw more support from these newish MPs who are tired of the familiar faces and want an untainted one. But May’s advance on the Remain side, and the turmoil on the Leave one, are squeezing him out of the media, slowing his advance, and reducing his opportunities to put his case.
- Andrea Leadsom has 20 voters: no more and no less than Gove. But momentum is everything. While Gove is fighting to stay afloat, the wind is in her sails. The simple fact is that roughly two-fifths of Conservative MPs backed Brexit, and their support has to go somewhere. Bits of it will peel off to Crabb and some more to May. But most will go to a pro-Leave candidate, and Leadsom is a fresh face – new, unsoiled by the quarrels and rivalries of the past, and a woman to boot. She is already the choice of Iain Duncan Smith and Steve Baker – in other words, of some of biggest names in different generations of Tory Brexiteering. This weekend, she looks the most likely of the three pro-Brexit candidates to make the final.
Two cautionary notes:
- It is possible that the last round may contain no Leave candidate at all. On paper, this would be legitimate. In practice, it wouldn’t be. More than half the country’s Tory voters and members backed Brexit. For their view not to be represented in the election’s final would strip the contest of authority.
- It is also possible that May will power into the lead after Tuesday’s first ballot, and pressure will be put on the other candidates to withdraw. We will write more about this tomorrow.