Boris Johnson’s campaign team has been so well-organised that it predicted exactly the number of votes he would get in today’s secret ballot, I understand. According to WhatsApp messages between his supporters, one member handed Johnson a sealed envelope with ‘114’ written in it before the result, telling him to open it once the official numbers had been declared.
The reason the prediction was correct is that the Johnson operation has been running a data-intensive targeting campaign for about three months, and therefore has a detailed understanding of where each MP is, and how likely they are to support each candidate. Parliamentary ‘handlers’ have offered information on every single MP as a result of repeated meetings and discussions. The data is all fed into a spreadsheet run by Grant Shapps, who developed the accurate prediction.
This approach, very similar to the one that the Tories adopted in their successful 2015 general election campaign, has also meant Johnson hasn’t wasted his time phoning MPs who are very opposed to him or who have already started working for other campaigns.
It also means that the campaign knows who is likely to switch from those knocked out or with weak numbers, and can, therefore, start preparing for the battle of the final two, while the other candidates scrabble for second place.
Johnson’s whipping operation, conducted by Gavin Williamson, is also impressing – and intimidating – MPs. There were suggestions today that MPs were being told to photograph their ballots to prove that they’d backed Boris, though this was denied by 1922 Committee co-chair Charles Walker, who said the backbench group organising the leadership elections had banned MPs from taking their phones in to vote as a precaution, not a response to any behaviour from any campaign. But the combination of Williamson and Shapps shows that this is a very different campaign to the disastrous one Johnson ran in 2016. Many people only joined this campaign because Johnson promised that he had plans in place to make it properly organised and to keep him in check, and that has paid off. That organisation has meant he has found the first parliamentary stage of the contest easy, when received wisdom just a few months ago was that he wasn’t very popular with his own colleagues.