James Forsyth

Theresa May love bombs Tory MPs

Theresa May love bombs Tory MPs
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The final parliamentary hustings of the Tory leadership contest has now taken place. With Theresa May assured of a place in the final two, the real interest was in whether Andrea Leadsom or Michael Gove could extract more from the occasion.

Leadsom was first up, and I understand gave a better performance than she had on Monday night. She joked at the end of her speech, ‘I’m a quick learner—note I didn’t use the expression baby’s brains once’.

But concerns were raised by her saying that she wouldn’t publish her tax return now but would let Tory MPs come and look at it if they wanted to.  Her answer that she would use trade envoys to negotiate a new trade deal with Europe also raised eyebrows from old hands.

Michael Gove was next and begun by saying that most MPs didn’t know his real name, the name that his birth mother had given him before he was adopted. Even normally cynical MPs thought that he had talked movingly about his own life story and how it informs his politics. The reception he received was considerably warmer than on Monday

He faced two difficult questions, though. Nicola Blackwood asked him what he thought about tactical voting. This was awkward for him as his campaign chairman Nick Boles has been caught texting people urging them to vote for Gove to keep Leadsom off the ballot. Gove replied that MPs should vote for the best person from the job, which he said was him. Then, Graham Stuart, who often clashed with Gove as chair of the education select committee when Gove was Education Secretary, asked him about the Boris incident, claiming he wasn’t fit to lead the party. I’m told that Gove replied that he had decided Boris was not up to the job and that’s why he had done what he did.

Last up was Theresa May who love bombed the room. She told MPs that she wanted to talk about winning the 2020 general election, stressing how the party must hold seats such as Bolton West. She promised to bring back collective Cabinet government, to set up a parliamentary policy board and to ensure that there are ‘fewer surprises’ for MPs and fewer occasions when they are marched up the hill and then marched down again. She won further applause when she criticised the IPSA, the MPs’ expenses watchdog, saying it needed to understand more about how MPs live their lives. She said some MPs were ‘living hand to mouth’ during the week.

But the biggest cheer came when May was asked about Ken Clarke calling her a ‘bloody difficult woman’. She joked that Jean-Claude Juncker was about to discover that she was a ‘bloody difficult woman’.

However, there was concern among some MPs afterwards that she did not commit to matching all CAP payments to farmers post-Brexit. She was also pressed by Peter Bone on whey she hadn’t campaigned harder for her side during the referendum campaign.

We will know at 5pm tomorrow who May’s opponent in the membership ballot will be. But it is certain that she will enter that phase of the contest with a clear lead among MPs.