Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are through to the final stage of the Tory leadership contest, after the results of the fifth round of voting were announced this evening. Michael Gove has been knocked out of the competition, after falling just two votes short (75 vs 77). Cries of foul play have followed, with suspicion that Team Boris "lent" several votes to Hunt.
Boris Johnson managed to win 160 votes from his colleagues: the majority of MPs. But this is just three more than the previous round. Odd given that Sajid Javid scored 34 votes this morning, before he was eliminated. Did all but three of Javid's supporters move to Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove? That sounds suspicious given that at least four of Javid's supporters said they were moving to Boris: Mims Davies, Chris Philp, Kevin Foster and Mike Wood. Those in the Javid camp reckon they split fairly evenly for Boris and Gove, with only two or three going for Hunt. This should have given an extra 15-odd votes to Boris, but his support only rose by three.
So what went on? Gove's allies suspect that Gavin Williamson, the former Chief Whip and co-chair of the Boris campaign, directed between 10-15 Boris supporters to team Hunt - to ensure a lower-energy challenger and an easier final. Allies of Boris don't deny that dark arts were deployed. The games, the games.
So it's the ideal result for Boris, who did not want to face the waspish and interrogative Michael Gove in hustings across the country. An ideal result for Tory MPs who were concerned about the level of blue-on-blue attacks that could occur if the Johnson and Gove 'psychodrama'. And a depressing result for those who had wanted Boris properly put on the rack over the next few weeks. They will now start hustings at local Conservative associations around the country until 12 July, when voting takes place. There will be an ITV debate between the two on 9 July and Andrew Neil is due to be given a one-to-one interview with both of them - if they don't pull out. They might well do, citing the debacle over Monday's BBC debate,
Full results below:
Boris Johnson, 160 (up 3)
Jeremy Hunt, 77 (up 18)
Michael Gove, 75 (up 14)