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Sajid Javid is out of the Tory leadership race, obtaining just 34 votes this afternoon. Michael Gove has overtaken Jeremy Hunt for second place with 61 votes to Hunt’s 59. Boris now has an outright majority of Tory MPs with 157 votes out of a total 313.
None of Rory Stewart’s 27 votes were likely to go to Sajid Javid, especially after he hardened his Brexit stance on Tuesday night in a bid to pick up votes from Dominic Raab. Javid’s approach worked last night to knock out the Brexit moderate Stewart. But it was clear that there were no legs in that strategy to allow him to progress – he alienated perhaps all of the 27 votes Rory Stewart’s camp had to give.
Michael Gove taking over Jeremy Hunt might worry the Johnson camp. Yesterday it was clear he was gaining ground. But the party – even the anti-Johnson MPs – are worried about a Johnson-Gove final ballot. After Gove’s now infamous turn-coat attack on Johnson in 2016, there are legitimate fears that the final round hustings could get nasty. Johnson could end up taking a hefty battering from the combative Gove in those stages, and damage his credibility before getting the keys to No 10 – if he manages to maintain his support with the membership.
But Michael Gove has already anticipated that anxiety, immediately tweeting after the result: “… If I make the final two I look forward to having a civilised debate of ideas about the future of our country…”. Meanwhile one of Sajid Javid’s supporters warned colleagues of the “psychodrama” that would come with a Johnson-Gove ballot.
Jeremy Hunt is certainly Johnson’s preferred candidate to face off in the final round. While Gove has managed to squeak ahead this round, we might see Johnson lend some of his votes to Jeremy Hunt to push Gove out. Although, this has been rumoured almost every round and hasn’t happened yet.
Tactical voting doesn’t look good for a leading candidate whose appeal comes from their surefire ability to win the contest. The Boris camp might be wary of that.
Javid’s votes are unlikely to flood towards erstwhile Remainer Jeremy Hunt, he’s the candidate with the least credibility when it comes to Brexit. Javid’s support base is pretty Brexit-y so those 34 will split between Johnson and Gove. But anymore votes to Johnson now are largely meaningless. His place on the ballot is secure. All eyes will be on how Gove and Hunt operate this afternoon to try and pick up those 34 MPs.