The arrival of the Sajid Javid campaign in the Committee Corridor created a momentary stir. They were led by Robert Halfon, riding on a Roller Scoot which for this purpose became a Roman chariot rather than a mobility scooter.
They paused in the corridor for a team photo. Simon Hoare, sitting just outside Committee Room 14 with a Sajid Javid badge, shouted “Hang on! Hang on! I’ve missed every single photo!” and ran down the corridor in order to join the group, which included the candidate himself, Victoria Atkins and Chris Philp.
Mark Garnier, sitting on the other side of the corridor and working for the Jeremy Hunt campaign, called out, “I’ve got his phone!” – i.e. Hoare’s phone.
The Javid and Hunt campaigns traded jokes all morning across the corridor, Hoare quoting the late Bob Monkhouse’s great line: “When I said I was going to become a comedian, they all laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now, are they?”
Javid’s people may not be laughing now they have been knocked out. But they and their candidate gave every impression of having enjoyed the ride.
It would, however, be wrong to suggest this contest has been fought in a spirit of unwearying amity. It has also prompted colleagues to say faintly disobliging things about each other.
“I’m one of Jeremy’s greatest fans,” as one MP remarked. “I’d say there are only three things wrong with him. One is that he’s the Establishment candidate, the second is that he’s Theresa May in trousers, and the third is that he still looks like the head boy at Charterhouse.”
“Morning, Andrew,” a Johnson supporter said. “Second reprint looming?” – it being supposed, rather woundingly, that this column might deviate from the stony path of unflinching impartiality simply because its author long ago wrote a life of Johnson.
The tranquil figure of A.J.Balfour, Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905, Conservative leader until 1911 and a senior Cabinet minister almost until his death in 1930, gazed down from the wall.
When Frank Harris said to him over lunch, “The fact is, Mr Balfour, all the faults of the age come from Christianity and journalism,” Balfour replied with a childlike air: “Christianity, of course…but why journalism?”
The journalists in the corridor were determined to discover what “black arts” were being employed to fix the race for second place. The politicians tended to suggest with an innocent air that no conspiracies were afoot.
Sir Alan Duncan brought a historical perspective to this question. He remarked to ConHome that this is his seventh leadership contest, and recalled that in the first two – the fall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and the challenge to John Major in 1995 – Tristan Garel-Jones referred to MPs who fell away from the cause of those leaders as “the f***pig scumbags”, colloquially known as “the FSBs”.
Michael Gove, we discovered at one o’clock, is now two votes ahead of Jeremy Hunt. The race for second place is neck and neck.
Which of them will face Johnson in the final? One of his supporters expressed the clear choice now facing Conservative MPs: “If they want a gentlemanly contest they’ll be inclined to go for Jeremy. If they want something a bit more kinetic they’ll go for Michael.”