Seldom has a race for second place been so keenly contested. As they came to the last, there was nothing in it, and if a single vote had gone to Michael Gove instead of Jeremy Hunt, the two of them would have been tied, and the race would have had to be run again.
We now have a final between two former Foreign Secretaries, Hunt and Boris Johnson. “It’s going to be a long month,” one of my colleagues in the Press Gallery remarked.
The media have been baulked of their “psychodrama”, as the battle between Gove and Johnson was known. Another colleague, writing for an American organisation, set out to tell the New World about Hunt, but one sensed it might be an uphill battle to get the candidate’s name known in every state.
“He’s an entrepreneur,” I said, for one does what one can on these occasions to help provide the vivid copy needed to demonstrate that this guy is every bit as exciting as Donald Trump.
Hunt’s victory vindicates the bold decision by Philip Dunne, who masterminded his campaign, not just to order but on two consecutive days to wear a new suit made of a slightly unconventional grey cloth.
We look forward to comparably subtle tones being worn by Hunt himself as he presents himself to the membership. Smart turnout matters, and although Johnson has recently tried to shed his scruffy image, and will no doubt instruct his operatives to find out the name of Dunne’s tailor, here is an area where clear grey water could soon appear between the two finalists, with Hunt establishing himself as the man who knows his way round Savile Row.
“I think it’s the most destructive thing I’ve ever been engaged in,” one new Tory MP said, but it turned out she was referring to the whole of Brexit, rather than to the Tory leadership race.
“I just don’t like blue on blue action,” another MP lamented. That is why we suspect Hunt’s handlers will set out to frame this as a grey on grey contest.
Johnson will face the decision of whether or not to be a grey man. He may well conclude that this is ground on which he is never going to beat Hunt.
The Javid entourage arrived to vote, with Robert Halfon riding, as this morning, on his Roller Scoot.
Halfon said: “Thank you to ConservativeHome! It’s been incredible – a Conservative encyclopaedia on the leadership contest.”
Voting was so brisk at the start of the final parliamentary ballot that a crowd of perhaps two dozen MPs gathered in the corridor outside Committee Room 14.
The delay was in part caused by the requirement that they fill in proxy forms, just in case there was a tie and the contest had to be run again this evening – a genuine risk, as we saw when the result was announced.
“Jeremy has the larger capacity to surprise,” his camp said after his victory. “Boris is a more known quantity. It’s Hunt who landed the most decisive hits on Boris during the TV debates.”
We shall see. For Hunt to be surprising would itself be a surprise. On the other hand, his audiences will want to be surprised. Otherwise, as my colleague said, it could be a long month.