Is Boris Johnson’s route to No. 10 now unstoppable? The former foreign secretary has more MPs backing him than any other candidate and over the weekend bagged the support of two leadership dropouts – Esther McVey and Matt Hancock. Hancock’s support for Johnson is the most surprising – just a week or so ago the Health Secretary used an interview with the Financial Times to take a swipe at Johnson by declaring ‘f—- “f—- business”’ in response to his infamous ‘f—- business’ comment. It follows that many are reading Hancock’s endorsement as a sign that even Johnson’s critics have come around to the former mayor of London.
However, not everyone in the Tory party agrees. In fact, Coffee House understands Hancock’s decision has caused something of a stink amongst many of the MPs he had been trying to win over when he first launched his leadership bid. Several MPs are questioning his sincerity – suggesting Hancock is more concerned with his career than values. ‘A real marmalade dropper but Matt clearly felt his place in the Cabinet was in jeopardy,’ responds one cabinet minister. ‘Does he join Boris in the submarine? Or does he take his effing and jeffing to the airwaves?’
Hancock has also missed the mark with many in the One Nation caucus Tory group – led by Nicky Morgan and Amber Rudd – in his campaign. He had hoped to win a lot of the members’ backing on his leadership platform as a future-facing one nation Tory – however, his reluctance to actually join the group meant that many regarded him with suspicion that he wouldn’t commit. His decision to back Johnson has for some confirmed those fears. The group has not gone for a group endorsement for one candidate but the 65-strong group does work together for joint aims. Notably, they were involved in a ‘Stop Raab’ operation with many concluding he was the only candidate they couldn’t countenance as leader. Last week, the group ran a whipping operation to get Simon Hoare elected as NI select committee chair at the expense of Raab supporter Maria Caufield.
Hancock allies insist that the desire for a good job did not enter the equation. Hancock deliberated over the weekend on who to back and concluded there was a need to unify the party sooner rather than later. The idea being if Johnson is inevitable then it’s better to be inside the tent having influence and shaping what type of leader he will be.
As for Hancock, his gamble may well pay off in the long term. There are already rumours abound that he has his sights set on Chancellor. However, in the near future the test will be how many supporters he can actually bring to the Raab campaign. As ConHome’s Paul Goodman said on Friday’s Coffee House Shots, bringing MP supporters with you is a bit like herding cats. Several of Hancock’s supporters – he had 20 back him in the first ballot – have already declared for Rory Stewart. Hancock allies say they expect about half of his supporters to go to the Johnson campaign. If more go to rival campaigns then Hancock’s influence could be called into question.