Game on for Michael Gove as two leave Tory leadership race
The justice secretary may yet make the final two – but he has his work cut out.
Liam Fox has fallen at the first hurdle in the Tory leadership race while Stephen Crabb has also dropped out.
Theresa May scored an overwhelming victory in the first round of Tory leadership race, as she picked up the votes of half of the parliamentary party.
After he came last and was eliminated, Fox backed the home secretary. Crabb then dropped out and also threw his weight behind the front runner.
The final tallies were as follows:
Theresa May - 165
Andrea Leadsom - 66
Michael Gove - 48
Stephen Crabb - 34
Liam Fox - 16
While May was expected to win and Fox was expected to come last, the performance of Michael Gove raised some eyebrows in Westminster.
Some Tory MPs believed that Gove had been mortally wounded by the furious claims of treachery from the Boris Johnson camp.
In the event, Gove was 18 votes behind Andrea Leadsom and his supporters insisted he could now catch up. “We are in business,” said a spokesman.
Gove could now do with attracting a high number of those who were backing Fox or Crabb in order to overtake Leadsom and make it into the final two. Should he manage to attract half of those MPs he would be on 73.
In addition, Gove’s team is hoping that a number of May’s backers will now lend their support to him. The thinking here is that May would prefer to face Gove in the final two - and that a number of her supporters are desperate to stop Leadsom getting anywhere near Downing Street.
Team Gove is also optimistic that Leadsom could yet lose support - or at least fail to attact new backers - over the next 48 hours. Allies of Gove point to Leadsom’s speech at Monday evening’s Tory hustings event, which Tory parliamentarians have variously called a "car crash" and a "fucking shambles".
Gove supporters are also waiting to see how newly-unearthed old blogposts by the energy minister might yet play out among Tory MPs. For example, in 2009 Leadsom criticised the adoption of two children by “a gay couple, who have been selected ahead of several heterosexual couples”.
But Gove could have his work cut out. Tory sources suggest that Fox and Crabb backers are unlikely to flock to Gove in their droves, and that Leadsom’s wobbles have already been priced in by most MPs.
Meanwhile Leadsom’s team is still buoyant after winning the support of Boris Johnson and having Margaret Thatcher’s PR guru describe their candidate as "the real deal".
However her allies are known to be deeply concerned about tactical voting by supporters of May.
On BBC’s Newsnight show, Leadsom’s campaign manager Tim Loughton said there were "a lot of shenanigans going on" and that "we think that Michael got a few more votes than we might have expected him to".
Asked if he would be suspicious if Gove were to beat Leadsom in the next round, Loughton made it clear that he already was worried.
He said: "I think there would be a bit of stewards inquiry about where those extra votes came from, frankly."