9.15 am Update Ignore all below – or at least squint at it in a sensational new context. Michael Gove has broken with Boris Johnson, and is to stand for the leadership himself. Three quick reactions.
First, the Justice Secretary is a man of talent, wit, and principle…with a tendency, perhaps surprising in one so bookish, to cross a room to pick a fight – sometimes with the voters.
Second, he has certainly picked a quarrel now. His bolt of lightning will harm Johnson’s campaign, and have blowback for Gove’s own.
Third, all this knives-in-the-palace is terrific Westminster Village drama: there’s a smack about of one of Gove’s favourite TV shows, Game of Thrones. Great entertainment, perhaps; baleful overtones, certainly. Our country is setting off on a new journey, and needs all the unity, resolve and sense of common endeavour it can get.
A YouGov poll of Party members in today’s Times (£) puts Theresa May ahead of Boris Johnson by 55 per cent to 38 per cent. We don’t do head-to-heads in our monthly survey, but we do ask about a range of candidates. So does YouGov in a seperate question, and its findings have the same shape as ours: May ahead of Johnson (though by 9 points rather than a whisker), and the rest a long way behind (longer, according to YouGov).
So it really does look as though the contest that Party members want is Johnson V May – at least at the moment. Both launch their campaigns this morning; Liam Fox launches his early this afternoon. Stephen Crabb launched yesterday. I tweeted yesterday that Andrea Leadsom is unlikely to stand. Robert Peston suggests that she will line up with Johnson. There may be other candidacies, but as matters stand these are the four main runners.
What Party members want may not, of course, be what Conservative MPs want. Have a look at Stephen Crabb’s list of backers on this site. Most of them are from the 2010 and 2015 intakes, which now constitute a big slice of the Tory parliamentary party. If Crabb can build on his start he could take support both from Johnson and perhaps especially from May, his fellow-Remainer. But the odds must be that the final two are indeed Johnson and May.
We posed ten exacting but we believe fair questions about Crabb’s candidacy yesterday, and will do the same later today to Johnson and May, following up with the same for Fox tomorrow. The first round of voting takes place next Tuesday and the second, if it is necessary, next Thursday. I am a veteran of the 2005 leadership race. Its Parliamentary stage seemed to stretch on forever. This one is shooting by very fast.