Rory Stewart’s success is the real surprise of the first Tory leadership vote

It is isn’t a great surprise that Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom have been knocked out of the first round of the Tory leadership contest, with 9, 10 and 11 votes respectively. None of them had particularly organised campaigns or a sufficiently distinctive pitch to the Conservative party.

McVey, for instance, was still ringing people known to be actively involved in other leadership campaigns last weekend, while Leadsom had deliberated over whether to re-run after her 2016 implosion. Harper has learned that being a former chief whip might give you in-roads into the party but doesn’t necessarily endear you to colleagues.

The greater surprise from the lower-ranking contestants is that Rory Stewart has managed to do quite so well. It wasn’t clear that he would manage to secure the requisite 16 votes from MPs today, but he has managed to get just one vote less than Matt Hancock, who has not been treated as a joke candidate. Stewart had to cancel media appearances last week just to make it onto the ballot after it became clear that all his attention-grabbing outside broadcasts from his phone weren’t getting him closer to the colleagues whose support he actually needed. This means that the candidate who has arguably agitated the contest the most, without a hope of winning, can continue to make far blunter statements about his rivals than others with a hope of winning feel empowered to do – on the suitability of certain MPs, such as Boris Johnson, for high office, on social care reform, and on the claims candidates are making about Brexit.

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