Tory leadership contest

It’s all Gover now

BY Finn McRedmond   /  20 June 2019

So that’s the end of that then. Hopes that Michael Gove might give Boris Johnson a real run for his money in the membership round of the Tory leadership ended on Thursday evening.

Jeremy Hunt and Johnson are set to battle it out to become the next leader of The Conservative party. Gove lost out on a place on the final ballot by just two votes to Hunt, the pair receiving 75 and 77 votes respectively. Boris Johnson picked up only 3 more votes in this round to finish on a majority of 160. He wins by miles though.

Sajid Javid dropped out of the race this afternoon, leaving 34 votes up for grabs. At least four of Javid’s backers publicly declared their support for Boris Johnson this afternoon – Chris Skidmore, Kevin Foster, Mike Wood and Chris Philip – and there were likely more undeclared votes for Boris that came from Javid’s camp. Johnson’s total votes only went up by 3 in this final round.

Talk of tactical voting has been common in this campaign – and this last result will only strengthen rumours. There were suggestions that Johnson would lend votes to Hunt throughout all the rounds to boost his chances of getting on the final ballot, but they appeared to be false. However with this final result spectators are a little more sceptical.

Whether tactical voting was involved or not (many people are finding the prospect that Johnson only picked up 3 votes from the Javid camp slightly incredulous) Boris Johnson’s team are happy with the result. Jeremy Hunt was by far their preferred candidate to meet in the final round with the party membership. He was a remainer, takes a softer approach to Brexit now, and has even toyed with the idea of a second referendum in the past. None of these facets of Hunt’s leadership bid will play well with the members who are, for now at least, largely okay with the no deal Brexit Boris Johnson has said he would be comfortable pursuing.

One of Sajid Javid’s supporters warned colleagues earlier of the inevitable “psychodrama” a Johnson-Gove final round would entail. Gove’s reputation as a turncoat, following his backstabbing of Boris in the 2016 leadership contest, may have been a significant factor in failing to get the numbers he expected throughout the contest. But Jeremy Hunt’s impressive endorsements from leaver cabinet member Penny Mordaunt and remainer/soft-Brexiteer cabinet member Amber Rudd will have bolstered his credentials as the moderate compromise candidate.

In the end it was Boris who got the last laugh, for now, in the Johnson-Gove friends turned foes saga. Just as Gove all but scuppered Johnson’s bid to lead the party in 2016, Johnson has forced Gove out of the contest, and is set to waltz into No 10 with the support of party members.

His pitch early on in the race – that he would leave the EU “deal or no deal” on 31st October – set the parameters of the debate and won him the support of the hard Brexiteers. He somehow also managed to corral support of many moderates across the party – Robert Jenrick and Oliver Dowden to name just two. His fractious coalition of ERG Steve Bakers and Cameroon Oliver Dowdens works for now. But if Boris makes it to office it’ll be challenging task to keep it together. These MPs are as incompatible as ever – and how likely is it his moderate supporters will be happy for him to pursue a no deal exit as promised?

Despite his promise early on to leave “deal or no deal” on 31st October, Johnson has since softened that commitment. He has recently claimed it will be “eminently feasible”, a fair shot off from the once promised definite outcome.

However, those are questions for Johnson to grapple with in the future. For now he has the party membership to contend with, travelling the country and vying with erstwhile remainer Jeremy Hunt for support.


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