It’s Day 4 of the Tory leadership contest and we’re now onto the knockout stage.
Tory MPs will today hold their first vote in the election – brutally ending the campaign of at least one less popular candidate to be our Prime Minister.
Outside hopes like pro-EU Rory Stewart and hard Brexiteer Esther McVey face a struggle to get through as they need at least 17 MPs’ votes.
But one man who won’t lose is Boris Johnson – who with more than 80 public endorsements is well in the lead.
That’s despite a blustering and evasive press conference yesterday where he dodged questions on cocaine use, his trustworthiness and Brexit .
Here are the 5 fast facts you need to know about the race this Thursday morning.
1. We’ll find out our first losers…
Tory MPs will hold their first round of votes in the leadership contest from 10am to noon.
They will troop into Parliament’s oak-panelled Committee Room 14 amid strict security measures to choose our next PM. To stop fraud, even famous MPs will all have to bring Parliamentary ID and the colour of the ballot papers was only decided last night.
The result is announced at 1pm and any MP with fewer than 17 backers will be knocked out of the contest.
All 313 Conservative MPs can take part in the ballot. So in theory, all 10 candidates could reach the 17-vote threshold.
But theory isn’t reality. Esther McVey (130/1) and Mark Harper (160/1) are among those who look vulnerable. Rory Stewart told us earlier this week he was on 17 backers exactly, but some of them could abandon him.
If all the MPs have 17 or more backers, the one with the fewest votes will be axed. The next ballot is on Tuesday when surviving MPs will need 33 or more votes.
2… And we’ll find out our first winners
Today’s announcement is also where we will find out the level of support for each winning candidate.
So far Boris Johnson is way out in the lead with more than 80 MPs declared behind him.
But today’s is a secret ballot, so the final totals may end up quite different to what you’ve read in the news.
Crucially we’ll get a hint of which “not Boris” candidate will make the final two – who go to a vote by 160,000 Tory members from next Thursday.
Supporters of Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Matt Hancock will all be trying to show their man is the one to rally behind in the next round.
3. Boris Johnson has a new poll boost…
Boris Johnson is back in his bunker this morning after breaking cover yesterday with a lacklustre performance.
The former foreign secretary took just six questions – after avoiding scrutiny for weeks.
He refused to come clean over whether he had taken illegal drugs or not and gave a half-hearted apology for slurring Muslim women, before suggesting he’d do it again.
He’ll be buoyed however this morning by a new Ipsos MORI poll.
It shows he is the most popular of all the candidates when voters are asked who – out of the candidate versus Jeremy Corbyn – would make a better Prime Minister.
39% opted for Mr Johnson, with 34% choosing Jeremy Hunt or Andrea Leadsom, 32% choosing Michael Gove or Sajid Javid, 30% choosing Dominic Raab, and 29% choosing Matt Hancock.
But the result is also good news for Labour . Boris Johnson is also the most divisive candidate – with more voters choosing Jeremy Corbyn (33%) against him than against any other candidate.
4… But Boris faces fresh questions over CLOSING parliament
Boris Johnson faces fresh questions after he failed to rule out SHUTTING Parliament to ensure a No Deal Brexit .
His rival Dominic Raab prompted outrage last week by suggesting he’d ‘prorogue’ Parliament just before October 31 – ensuring MPs couldn’t vote to block No Deal.
But despite the backlash, it appears Mr Johnson has not ruled out the prospect either.
Instead he told MPs he is “strongly not attracted” to the idea, Tory MP Simon Clarke said last night.
Responding to the comment, sources close to Mr Johnson did not rule out proroguing Parliament.
Instead we were referred to his previous comment on the subject: “I am instinctively averse to such arcane procedures”.
Expect this one to run and run…
5. Esther McVey is having an absolute mare
You’d think the prospect of being knocked out the Tory leadership race today would be humbling enough.
But Esther McVey is all over the news today – almost entirely for unedifying reasons.
First there was her incredible gaffe on LBC yesterday, where she claimed foreign aid paid for a “runway built in the wrong direction”.
Asked where it was she said: “It’s in one of … the continents… abroad”. In fact this is a well-known row relating to St Helena – a UK overseas territory.
Then there is The Guardian, which reveals she claimed £8,750 in expenses for a personal photographer.
Meanwhile her row with ITV’s Lorraine Kelly has rumbled on, with a friend telling the Express a “cabal of lefties” is to blame for the public spat between the pair.
Today her former agent hits out with a devastating article portraying her as “the girl who took someone else’s job from under their nose.”
Writing in the Daily Mail, Jon Roseman adds: “Worse than that, she exuded the same lack of warmth that, to me, has characterised her political career. Esther had no empathy.”