James Forsyth

As Crabb drops out, can Gove pass Leadsom?

As Crabb drops out, can Gove pass Leadsom?
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Theresa May is, without a doubt, going to the membership round—and with the support of vastly more MPs than her opponent. In the first round, she won the support of 165 MPs—exactly half the eligible electorate.

The question now is who will be her opponent? Andrea Leadsom finished second with 66 votes, Michael Gove was third on 48, Stephen Crabb got 34 and Liam Fox was eliminated after receiving 16 votes. Crabb has chosen to drop out of the race of his own accord after finishing fourth.

If Gove is to overtake Leadsom, he is going to have to pick up a lot of votes from the Crabb pool. The Gove team hope they can do this by appealing on social reform grounds to Crabb’s supporters. They will argue that Gove is the candidate who will most advance the agenda that Crabb has articulated in this race.

But Gove will likely need something else to get past Leadsom. Crabb himself has already declared for Theresa May, and many of his supporters will follow suit. This something else could be a view among Tory MPs that the membership should be offered two candidates with Cabinet level experience. The argument goes that Leadsom, with only a couple of years’ service as a junior minister, is just too inexperienced for this moment in the UK’s history. But 18 votes is a fair number to have to make up in a contest with such a small electorate.