Before the first ballot, Boris Johnson climbed to a record personal and table high in this survey, carving out 54 per cent. He now reaches 55 per cent, but this is margin-of-error stuff. None the less, it’s another record.
Rory Stewart’s guerilla campaign sees him put on five points to consolidate his second place in the table. But he remains the best part of 40 points behind Johnson.
None of the rest are in double figures, and the changes for them are marginal. Stewart claimed last week that his place in our survey had swung more MPs behind him to double his then declared total.
Our run-offs in this survey shed further light on the candidates’ standing with Party members, and we will publish them later this morning. Meanwhile, here are the figures – and below them, some questions for today.
- By how much will Johnson’s vote increase today? He is already over the 105 vote total that guarantees him a place in the final. There are 50 votes going spare after the elimination of Mark Harper, Andrea Leadsom and Esther Mcvey, plus the withdrawal of Matt Hancock. If he grabbed all of them and kept his 114 votes from the first round of voting, he would have 164 – more than the 157 votes that would represent above half the Conservative Parliamentary Party. Even if MPs defect to him from other candidates who are still in the race, that looks like a very tall order.
- Can Hunt consolidate his position? If left-of-Tory-centre, anti-No Deal Conservative MPs want to get Rory Stewart into this evening’s BBC debate, they could “lend” him votes to do so. Hunt’s supporters are those that Stewart is most likely to target for that purpose. But such action could have unexpected consequences – namely, Hunt’s vote actually going down, the collapse of his candidacy, and the emergence of Stewart as a serious challenger to Johnson. Hunt’s whips are keenly aware of the potential problem.
- Can Gove make it to second? He doesn’t necessarily have to put on votes to do so – which is just as well for him, because he’s unlikely to pick up all that many from the eliminated and withdrawn candidates. But were Hunt’s vote to dip, Gove could find himself second by default. That could blow wind into the flapping sails of his campaign, and reinforce the Chumbawama Candidate story that he is trying to tell – “you’re never going to keep me down”. But it is more likely that he will today find him running out of new support.
- Is Raab marooned, and has Javid momentum? Raab needs to keep above Stewart – and Javid – to stay in the contest. It is hard to see him picking up much from Hancock; he might gain a bit from the three eliminated candidates. Might Team Johnson’s dark arts masters slip him a few votes, to keep Stewart out of the debates? Javid has a few declarations this morning, but needs more support to get him up above Raab, fend off Stewart – and establish a sense that his campaign has legs. That’s a big challenge.
- The Stewart dilemna. Conservative MPs vote as individuals. But a collective mood can shape a contest. If enough want Johnson to have a rough media and campaign ride when the contest goes to Party members, they will desert other contenders and flock to Stewart. If they want a less contentious and more decorous ride, they will stick with someone else – probably Hunt. Which of all the other candidates would actually run Johnson closest? Our run-off polls, published later this morning, may give a clue.