And then there were five. The Tory leadership election lost another hopeful on Tuesday as Dominic Raab, at one time considered the main rival to Boris Johnson for the top Tory job, failed to secure the support of enough MPs and dropped out of the race.
Raab’s fall from grace, accelerated by his apparent belief that a pledge to shut down Parliament to force through a No Deal Brexit was a vote winner, leaves a field of two prominent Brexiteers (Boris Johnson and Michael Gove) one anti-No Deal candidate (Rory Stewart) and two other candidates (Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid) who have positioned themselves somewhere in-between.
Johnson remains the overwhelming favourite, rated as a 1/7 chance by most bookies to be the next Conservative leader, and his odds haven’t budged despite a prolonged media silence followed by a lacklustre performance in Tuesday evening’s leadership debate.
In fact, the main result of Tuesday’s events appears to have been a drift in Stewart’s chances. The International Development Secretary, who has been able to position himself as the moderate alternative to Johnson and the ultra-Brexiteers, almost doubled his support from 19 votes to 37, but amid speculation that Johnson might be considering ‘lending’ some of his supporters to Hunt in order to ensure Stewart doesn’t make the final two, his price has been edging out.
On Wednesday morning, one bookmaker was offering odds as low as 8/1 on Stewart, but he was widely available at 14/1 elsewhere and had drifted as far as 25/1 with one bookie. It is not clear whether there has been a concerted campaign by the Johnson camp to ensure that Stewart doesn’t end up as his opponent for the final stage of the election, when Tory members have their say. And given Johnson’s support among Tory members, it is hard to see the moderate Stewart prevailing even if he does manage to get his name on the final ballot.
Still, in these volatile political times, it is dangerous for any politician to take their electorate for granted, and Johnson’s tendency to put his foot in it could conceivably be a liability at some point, so there’s no doubt his team would prefer to be up against a more familiar opponent such as Hunt, Gove or Javid, than a potential wild card like Stewart.