The final round of the Conservative leadership election officially ends on 22nd July, which is the close of voting by party members. The race is therefore generally viewed as having just over a month more to run.
But in reality many – or possibly even most – members will have voted long before the formal deadline.
A letter recently sent out to members by CCHQ to explain the process says: “You should receive your ballot between the 6th and 8th of July.”
Just as in any other election, postal voting means a lot of people pass their verdict as soon as they receive their papers. That effectively removes them from the audience for the rest of the campaign after that date.
So the fact this election will be fully postal has practical and strategic connotations for the final two candidates:
1) It is good news for a front-runner. The long race in 2005 – which lasted for months on end – provided David Cameron with the opportunity to overturn David Davis’s early lead. If a lot of people will in practice be voting in a fortnight’s time, that reduces the possibility for a similar upending.
2) It raises the incentive for the second-placed finalist to hit early and hit hard. If an underdog has a small window of opportunity to make a difference to the contest, and a short period of time for any messages they do put out to come across and change minds, then there’s all the more reason to be very outspoken, very bold and very punchy early on. That’s good news for journalists seeking a story, but might be troubling for Party members worried about the prospect of unattractive blue-on-blue attacks.
3) It puts the later hustings on a strange footing. According to the list we published recently, there are five official hustings – South East, Gloucestershire, East Anglia, Eastern and London – which will take place after ballots have been sent out. The London hustings is last, and takes place on the 17th of July – a full ten days after most members will have received and potentially cast their vote.