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And so it unfolds along the lines that ConservativeHome sketched out two days ago.  Sajid Javid’s band of 34 voters could decide whether or not Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt go forward to face Boris Johnson at the membership stage of this leadership election.

As we suspected, Rory Stewart’s band of 27 anti-No Deal, Johnson-sceptic and Remain-leaning supporters seem to have broken disproportionately for the man most likely to cause him trouble at that last stage – Gove.

(Johnson is up by ten, but some of those votes appear to have come from Javid’s third round backers, and others may have been leant from his column or from elsewhere in that round: this contest is a murky business.)

So, then: Javid’s supporters indeed now hold the key.

They include left-of-Tory-centre MPs who we’ve named previously: Victoria Atkins, Stephen Crabb, John Glen, Simon Hoare, Andrew Selous, Chris Skidmore, Robin Walker and Jeremy Wright..

…and right-of-Tory-centre ones, too, such as Lucy Allan, Fiona Bruce and Chris Philp, plus others who are harder to categorise, such as our columnist, Robert Halfon.  (These categories are necessarily crude.)

Some of them may ship off straightaway to Johnson – Javid can be expected to declare for him, and perhaps to be Johnson’s Chancellor – but others will face a momentous choice.  The choice before them is as follows.

Gove might pull his punches, in the interest of Party unity, if he takes on Johnson at the membership stage.  But the history between the two men – the Vote Leave partnership; the Gove desertion in 2016, and their tangled dealings since are a media dream for an acidulous final.

Hunt might hit out harder, in the interest of a testing contest, if he makes it through instead.  None the less, the press doesn’t seem want to write about a rough and tumble between the two men.  And with Hunt there is always a sense of restraint.  That isn’t invariably true of Gove.

So, much depends on what those former Javid supporters want – everything, in fact, if Johnson’s vote climbs streadily…and votes aren’t thrown by Team Johnson in Hunt’s direction.

ConservativeHome has backed Johnson as Next Tory Leader, with reservations, and is shy of expressing a view about who his opponent should be.  The choice hangs on what sort of final one wants.

However, we end with the thought that, if Hunt wins through, it is relatively easy to imagine him as Deputy Prime Minister or First Secretary of State – rowing in behind the Johnson as a dependable deputy.  The latter flourishes when strong support is to hand. Simon Milton in London was the quintessential example.

If Gove survives the remaining ballot instead, we don’t see how he could be deployed by Johnson in a similar way.  There is too much tricky history between the two men.  There would be too much media sensitivity to power struggles, appointments and policy differences.

Of course, you may well think that Johnson – if and when he wins – doesn’t need a deputy at all.

Either way, only a few more hours to go.

215 comments for: Gove gets his breakthrough moment. Now for the big choice. What sort of final do Conservative MPs really want?

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