8.30am Wednesday update
Crabb has withdrawn. Many of his 34 votes will surely go to May in Thursday’s ballot. That will lift her total further – assuming there’s no slide in it, which is a reasonable assumption.
The scene is therefore set for May’s provisional wing of MPs, as I call them, to throw some votes to Gove in order to get him into the membership ballot – on the ground that he will be easier to beat there than Leadsom. Meanwhile, Gove will pitch himself to Crabb’s backers as, like their man, a dedicated social-reformer. So will Leadsom.
On paper, Gove could just about manage to make it to the membership stage if some May votes go his way. But reducing her total would be a dangerous game for these supporters of hers to play, since she needs a big victory to boost her winning credentials.
Gove v May would pitch the most heavyweight candidates against each other. Leadsom v May would represent a clean runner who backed Leave against an experienced one who backed Remain. We’re heading for one of the two.
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Mark Wallace reported the figures earlier, and here’s a quick take on them.
- Theresa May has 165 votes. That’s exactly half the Parliamentary Party. It’s a bit less than the upper end of expectations – we had her on 140 firm pledges this morning – but it’s none the less a huge slice of the total. It’s a little bit early to say that she’s the clear choice of the majority of Conservative MPs but she’s nearly there – and no-one else comes remotely close.
- Andrea Leadsom has 66 votes. That’s 24 more than the 42 supporters we had signed up to her on our list, but not enough to ensure that she breaks free of the other candidates, in particular…
- Michael Gove. He has 48 votes. That’s 21 more than the 27 backers we had down for him earlier. Given the troubles that have plagued his candidacy, it looks as though either a) his heavyweight credentials have earned him more votes than expected, or b) the provisional wing of May’s supporters have thrown him a few votes to get him within range of Leadsom.
- Stephen Crabb has 34 votes. That’s 12 more than the 22 we had down for him this morning. His camp will be disappointed by this result.
- Liam Fox has 16 votes and is out of the contest.
Two snapshot observations:
- If all Fox’s 16 went to Crabb they would lift him above Gove. But this is unlikely to happen: they will surely scattter in different directions, most perhaps to Leadsom, with Fox himself maybe supporting May.
- If Crabb, then, went out in the next round of voting on Thursday, his support – again – would go to different candidates. But if enough of it went to Gove, the Justice Secretary could yet make the final – by overhauling Leadsom. This is unlikely but possible.
- A question looms. Party members have the right to vote for whichever of the two candidates put before them they wish. But what one has a right to do is not necessarily what it is wise to do. If May emerges during the coming days as the clear choice of a majority of Conservative MPs, should Party members really throw their weight behind another candidate – especially at what is the biggest moment in our national life certainly since Suez, and perhaps since 1940?