Which two candidates will make the final two of the Tory leadership contest? At the moment, the race is Boris Johnson’s to lose with the former foreign secretary on course to make it to the membership ballot. However, the contest for the other place is tight. The make up of the Parliamentary party means there will be likely be only one no-deal Brexiteer candidate in the final two – with the other spot going to a Cabinet candidate. As of Friday, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt were the two candidates with the most nominations after Johnson – with Sajid Javid trailing behind.
This weekend, however, has seen several developments which could mix things up in the coming days – before MPs vote on Thursday in the first round of the contest. Sajid Javid has won the support of Ruth Davidson – the Scottish Conservative leader – in what his supporters are talking up as a game-changer. He has also received the backing of three of his Home Office ministers following criticism last week that he was yet to have a minister in his own department back him. While this doesn’t take Javid to the same numbers as Hunt and Gove, it does suggest a change in fortune. Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt has won another cabinet endorsement – this time from Amber Rudd. Announcing her decision in a Times op-ed, Rudd said:
‘These are serious times. They require a serious leader who will be listened to in Brussels. Jeremy Hunt is that leader and I am deeply proud to support him.’
This will come as a disappointment to the Gove campaign as Gove previously held talks with the work and pensions secretary. There’s now talk that more ministers will follow in the coming days with Hunt to emerge as the Cabinet favourite.
It comes as Gove’s campaign stumbled on Saturday after extracts of a new biography – by the journalist Owen Bennett – were published in the Daily Mail. These included the claim that Gove had taken cocaine prior to becoming a politician – something Gove then confirmed in an apologetic interview with the paper. Since that revelation, Gove has struggled to move the conversation back to his leadership pitch. The Environment Secretary’s Andrew Marr interview was dominated by questions over the matter when Gove had hoped to talk about his policy pitch to scrap VAT.
Speaking to MPs who have already publicly come out in support of Gove, they are in large adamant that they are sticking with their candidate. However, the book extracts have meant that Gove has lost some momentum. Aside from the drug revelations, the Daily Mail extract included a claim that Gove had told MPs at a dinner that he had performed a ‘public service’ when he turned on Boris Johnson in the 2016 contest. This is landing badly with many Tory MPs who worry that by backing Gove they are playing into an unresolved Boris/Gove psychodrama. With Boris Johnson currently the favourite, a handful of MPs who don’t want to back Johnson because of constituent concerns or previous comments they have made are considering who to back in the knowledge they will probably get Johnson anyway. Given the history between Johnson and Gove, some worry that backing Gove could be seen as a hostile move by the Johnson camp. Gove is to hold his leadership launch on Monday where he will try to move the conversation on.