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The question is the same but the answerers are different.

What kind of final stage of this leadership contest, when two candidates are put before Conservative members, do Tory MPs want?

In this case, a very specific group of those MPs – namely, the 27 who stuck with Rory Stewart in today’s ballot.

These are, in crude terms, the most anti-No Deal slice of the Conservative Parliamentary Party, and the most likely to take a hostile view of Boris Johnson.

It follows that most of them can be expected to plump for the candidate most likely to give him a testing time at that membership stage of the contest.

If they all voted for Sajid Javid, and everything else remained static, the Home Secretary would leap above Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove.

A Johnson-Javid final would put the two candidates with the best opinion polling up against each other.  But such an outcome is extremely unlikely.

Instead, the Stewart vote is more likely to divide between Johnson’s three remaining opponents.  Of these, Gove is perceived among MPs to be a more combative debating and campaigning proposition for Johnson than Hunt.

That isn’t necessarily right.  Hunt has asked some sharp questions of Johnson during the contest.  And Gove might decide, were he to reach the final, to pull some punches, in the interest of Party unity.

But our take none the less is that many MPs who aren’t supporting Hunt see him as an establishment candidate.  Which is why his supporters will have an uphill battle convincing the insurgent Stewart’s voters to switch to him.

Gove is three votes behind Hunt, put on two more votes than him today, and is on the Foreign Secretary’s tail.

So the former isn’t badly placed at all to overtake the latter in tomorrow’s fourth ballot.  But if Javid is eliminated in it, where do his backers then go – as we asked yesterday?

They could in effect decide whether Gove or Hunt faces Johnson in the final…

(…unless there’s some funny business in the corridors, and Team Johnson slip some votes Hunt’s way, either tomorrow morning or afternoon…)

192 comments for: Gove’s breakthrough moment?

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