Theresa May's campaign team prepares for battle with Andrea Leadsom
The home secretary has already signed up a number of lobbying and PR professionals.
Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom are preparing to turn their guns on each other as the Tory leadership battle enters its final stage.
May comfortably outperformed her rivals in the second ballot of Tory MPs by winning the support of 199 colleagues. Leadsom picked up 84 votes and Michael Gove got 46.
It means that Tory members will now choose between the two female politicians, with the result being announced on 9 September.
Leadsom’s strongest pitch to Tory members is that she supported Brexit while May did not. With most Tory members having voted out, she will argue that the policy of withdrawing from the European Union should be implemented by someone who was behind it from day one.
Leadsom is also keen to appeal to those right wing party members who never loved David Cameron, for example by stressing that she is not a fan of gay marriage.
The energy minister does not yet have a full campaign team in place, but she will do soon. Among those helping out so far have been Margaret Thatcher’s image guru Tim Bell and the veteran Tory PR man Nick Wood.
May is the favourite of both the bookmakers and the pollsters. One of her key arguments is that she is evidently the most popular figure among her colleagues and therefore best-placed to unite the party.
"I’m delighted to have won so much support from my colleagues," she said shortly after the second round result was announced. "This vote shows the Tory party can come together and unite, and under my leadership it will."
May's other strong argument is that she is the only candidate with proper experience at the top of government.
Building on this, Team May will now look to stress the home secretary’s credentials as a safe pair of hands who has thought through all of the issues relating to EU withdrawal - and has consulted with relevant figures in the world of business. To this end the lobbying consultancy boss Iain Anderson will play an important role, having been signed up to help out with ‘business liaison’.
May has also drafted in another highly capable PR agency boss, Katie Perrior, to oversee media. But perhaps the most significant players on Team May are Stephen Parkinson, formerly of the Vote Leave campaign, and Fiona Hill, the home secretary’s formidable former special adviser and close confidante who recently joined lobbying firm Lexington Communications.
Parkinson will be running the ground war, while Hill (formerly Cunningham) will play a key role in sharpening the home secretary’s strategy and identifying the best wedge issues for the scrap with Leadsom.
There are no plans to run an overtly negative campaign. Rather May’s team hope that by stressing her positive attributes, the electorate will "join the dots" and draw their own conclusions about her opponent. One campaign operative suggests that Tory voters might eventually come to view Leadsom as "inexperienced, eccentric and a windbag".
Team May are also well aware that outriders will do their dirty work for them. Getting the ball rolling was Amber Rudd, who said of Leadsom. "Let’s face it, she’s had just two years – I do think it is a problem at this stage."
Finally, supporters of May hope that Leadsom may yet come unstuck without their input as she does more speeches and interviews. Or as one straight-talking Tory strategist puts it: "The more she speaks, the more crazy shit she’s going to say."