With five candidates surviving Tuesday’s ballot, the surprise result was Rory Stewart. The wildcard entry won 37 votes – with Sajid Javid behind on 33 votes. It follows that when it comes to who is most likely to be knocked out in this afternoon’s ballot, it’s the Home Secretary who ought to be the most vulnerable. However, Stewart is not home and dry. Although the DfID Secretary has been building momentum of late, he had a challenging appearance in the BBC debate – admitting after that it wasn’t his preferred format. His Cabinet candidate rivals also turned on him at points – with both Michael Gove and Sajid Javid directly challenging him. Multiple messages from the Stewart camp to MPs soon after the second ballot have added to a sense of unease about his campaign.
Now there’s talk that moves could be afoot to knock Stewart out in this evening’s vote. The contest is now in its knockout phase so who ever has the least votes is out. The idea is that after Dominic Raab was eliminated from the race, his supporters could move to back Javid – thereby increasing the Home Secretary’s vote share and knocking Stewart out in the process. ‘They don’t fear Saj. He’s weak,’ says a minister unimpressed with the idea. This, they say, is why MPs will try to get Stewart out tonight. There’s certainly a sense amongst Boris supporters that Stewart is someone they would like to avoid reaching the final two – however, the official Johnson campaign line is to not mess around by lending votes as it could lead to a cock-up. Meanwhile, there are whisperings of a potential Gove/Stewart pact to guarantee the pair make it to the next stage.
So, would this amount to a ‘Stop Rory’ campaign or simply MPs deciding they prefer Sajid Javid? Javid had a good performance in the BBC debate and was praised for being more combative with his opponents. He also insisted the UK would leave on October 31st. This is a message that holds appeal with Tory eurosceptics (and makes it easier for Javid to serve in a Johnson government eventually). But most strikingly, as Fraser reported, Javid’s pitch to Conservative MPs these days isn’t even about him trying to beat Boris. Javid has presented the idea of him getting to the final as a chance not for him to defeat Boris but so he can ‘make a better Boris’. It follows that if MPs choose to back Javid at the last minute in order to try and create their preferred final ballot, it’s only what Javid himself has openly suggested.