We asked yesterday what kind of final stage of his leadership election Conservative MPs want.
If Boris Johnson is to be one of the two candidates put by them to Party members, and Jeremy Hunt is the other, it will be a contest fought within conventional codes of behaviour.
If Michael Gove is Johnson’s opponent, the election will be sharper.
If it is Sajid Javid instead, the contest will be fizzier.
And if it is Rory Stewart, prepare to tear up the rule book.
Johnson’s 126 votes today represent a modest increase of 12 votes from his total of 114 in the first round. Either 1) he has not persuaded most of the 40 colleagues who backed Matt Hancock/ Mark Harper/ Andrea Leadsom/ Esther McVey to transfer to him…or votes have moved from that 114 column to other candidates.
If so, perhaps Javid, who put on ten votes, was the main beneficiary. On the one hand, it will be argued that any such move will have been a deliberate ploy by the Johnson whips – in order to haul Javid above Stewart. On the other, it is hard to see why such a gambit makes sense, because the candidate who needed support to place Stewart last was Raab, not Javid.
Maybe any such movement to Javid was unauthorised. Perhaps MPs drifted off from Johnson to Stewart instead (when Gavin Williamson and the Johnson whips weren’t looking). Maybe there was a churn, with Johnson voters going to Hunt, and Hunt voters going to Stewart. Perhaps all these complex theories, and variants on them, are bunkum – and we must simply take the result at face value. That is certainly the view from Camp Javid.
At any rate, Stewart has put on 18 votes, more than any other candidate, and is well placed for another push.
If Raab’s voters go to Javid, the latter will overhaul Stewart in the next round, all other things being equal. If they go to Johnson, Javid won’t make it.
(P.S: The No Deal-tolerant Raab’s votes are unlikely to transfer to the anti-No Deal Stewart, or to go en masse either to Hunt or Gove.)
So we end where we started.
Javid’s supporters – who include such left-of-Party-centre MPs as Victoria Atkins, Stephen Crabb, John Glen, Simon Hoare, Andrew Selous, Chris Skidmore, Robin Walker and Jeremy Wright – will hope that their man can somehow make it through tomorrow.
If he does, his fortunes could be transformed. If he doesn’t, Stewart will presumably make the last four.
So those Javid backers should be asking themselves who they will back if their man is knocked out tomorrow – and both Hunt and Gove’s vote remains relatively steady.
If they want a relatively quiet final, they will opt for Hunt. If they want a noisier one, Gove. If a cacophonous one, Stewart. If they want simply to pile in behind the front-runner – Johnson.
Two days to go.