‘Revenge in the air’ as Boris supporters plot against Gove
Tory MPs will choose final two candidates in leadership contest today
Boris Johnson supporters are reportedly plotting to knock out his rival Environment Secretary Michael Gove from the party’s leadership battle as Tory MPs prepare to choose the final two candidates today.
According to The Daily Telegraph, Gove “has never been forgiven for stabbing Mr Johnson in the back during the 2016 leadership contest”. In the race to replace David Cameron, Gove had supported Johnson before suddenly putting himself forward for the role, saying his rival did not have the necessary skills to lead the country, prompting Johnson to pull out of the running.
The Telegraph says “revenge was in the air on Wednesday night” as Johnson’s backers “began plotting against him”. One supporter reportedly said they did not want Gove merely beaten, but “humiliated”, says the newspaper.
The claims come after Johnson won the backing of 143 Tory MPs in the third parliamentary ballot. International Development Secretary Rory Stewart left the race after attracting just 27 votes, ten fewer than he in the previous round. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt came second with 54 votes, Gove was third with 51 and Home Secretary Sajid Javid came fourth with 38.
Stewart told Sky News after the result that he was “surprised” by his loss of support, adding: “I don't understand.”
The remaining field of four candidates will be reduced to three in another secret ballot this morning, with the result expected at around 1pm. Then there will be a further vote to select the final two, one of whom will be elected leader by party members.
With Gove so close to Hunt, Johnson’s supporters reportedly want to use Javid as a vehicle to knock Gove out of the running in today’s round of voting, by “lending” him votes to get him through to the evening’s final MPs’ ballot.
Amid suggestions that Stewart might endorse Gove, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg says there are “many possibilities” of potential alliances and pacts between the candidates chasing the former foreign secretary Johnson.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, a leading supporter of Hunt, reportedly hosted a dinner for MPs who had backed Stewart, in the hope of adding them to Hunt’s team.
Gove told LBC radio there were always “twists and turns” in a leadership race, but he was “hopeful” of making it to the final two, given the extent of his support amongst Tory MPs. He added that although he had not spoken to Stewart since his elimination, “having his support would be brilliant”.
The Guardian says Gove’s “background as a reformer” and his pledges to “boost education funding and tackle social care funding” could appeal to “Stewartites”, potentially enabling him to overtake Hunt.
Meanwhile, Javid insists he is staying in the race to become Tory leader, while The Times reports that he is “holding out to be Boris Johnson’s chancellor”.