If half of Boris Johnson’s supporters had stayed in bed this morning, he’d still have won by a safe margin. The number of MPs supporting Johnson is astonishing, given how many were saying until a few weeks ago that they despised him. They may well still do, but Nigel Farage is now grasping them by the ankles and dangling them over a cliff – which is focusing Tory minds. It’s wrong to see all Conservatives as ideologues. Some of them are, to be sure, but most of them like power and will go with those who offer it. In Boris Johnson, they see the candidate most likely to keep them in power by swatting away Farage with one hand and Jeremy Corbyn with the other.
But given that Johnson came first today by such a big margin, he can afford to dispatch voters to support whoever he’d prefer to run against in the final two. This is how these votes work. For example, Liam Fox (who finished third in 2005) remains convinced that David Cameron’s supporters backed David Davis in the later rounds to make sure the final two was to their liking. You can bet that Johnson will not want the energetic, waspish Michael Gove to be chasing him up and down the county in the final stage of this race. Nor would he want Sajid Javid to try to blossom – as Rory Stewart has – on the campaign trail. Johnson would far rather face the more relaxed Jeremy Hunt, who he could beat without breaking a sweat. So don’t be surprised if we see some shift in this direction. Team Boris have a sophisticated (and, from some reports, heavy-handed) whipping operation more than capable of trying to rig the race from hereon in. I suspect Jeremy Hunt will be the beneficiary of that rigging.