Boris Johnson has today confirmed his place as the frontrunner to be the next prime minister. In the first voting round of the Tory leadership contest, the former foreign secretary romped home with 114 votes from MPs. This means that Johnson has already surpassed the magic number of 105 votes – which means a candidate will come at least second and thereby has a place in the final two. To put the vote into perspective, Johnson won more votes than Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab combined.
However, the Boris Johnson camp aren’t cracking out the champagne just yet. Boris allies are keen to press that there is still a lot of time to go in the contest – with more rounds next week. The message? They won’t get complacent as a result of their clear lead as things could still change before the final ballot.
Yet it is the case that Johnson is looking increasingly unassailable in the contest. Jeremy Hunt came in second – with 43 votes – but far short of Johnson’s numbers. Close behind Hunt was Michael Gove on 37 votes and Dominic Raab on 27 votes. Sajid Javid managed to narrowly win more votes than his rival Matt Hancock – at 23 votes to 20. So, where does this leave the race? Raab will come under pressure now to fold. If he does, those votes will likely go to Johnson – only increasing his lead. As for the Cabinet candidates, both Hunt and Gove will see their numbers as proof they ought to stay in the race.
The problem they face, however, is that Johnson is also the clear favourite with the Tory grassroots. If Johnson also has the most MPs backing him – as has been shown today – the second place candidate will come under pressure to step aside before the grassroots get a say. The idea being that you could skip the membership vote as it would be clear Johnson would win it anyway – thereby giving Johnson more time in No. 10 to work on his Brexit strategy and speak to EU leaders before they go on their summer holidays.
Johnson’s success today is also likely to increase the school of thought in his campaign team of safety first. This means that Johnson could duck out of the various leadership debates next week on the grounds that he has little to gain and lots to lose if it were to go wrong. The saying goes that the Tory frontrunner rarely wins – Johnson looks set to challenge that theory.