What counts as a good result for Boris Johnson in the second ballot? The former foreign secretary has already hit the magic number (105 MPs) that ought to guarantee a candidate a place in the final two – winning 114 votes in the first round. It follows that the pressure is on in some quarters for Johnson to build on this momentum when MPs vote for a second time this afternoon. In terms of stamping his authority, there are Johnson supporters who would like to see him win the support of half of the Parliamentary party – thereby providing him with a strong mandate going forward.
The Johnson campaign is keen to play down expectations – with some suggesting they could even lose votes. This is because there is talk of lending votes to rival candidates to get them to the next round. One argument put forward by Brexiteer MPs is to lend votes to Dominic Raab to increase the chance of having two Brexiteers in the final. It would also mean that Brexiteers like Steve Baker and Mark Francois would have another candidate to fall back on if Johnson backslides on his Brexit promises.
The other theory that’s been talked up is Boris supporters lending votes to the Jeremy Hunt campaign. The idea is that Hunt would be the best person for Johnson to face in the final two as he would be a fairly easy candidate to go up against. Hunt is unlikely to go for too many blue-on-blue attacks in the way Rory Stewart might. He also isn’t a Brexiteer so stands little chance with the membership. I understand some Boris backers have discussed the idea. However, one told me that they all concluded it was too risky a strategy and not the right way going forward. Now MPs may still decide to lend votes, but the official line among the Johnson camp is to back Boris and no one else.