|* Paul Waugh|
So, we should find out around 6pm tonight who has made the cut and who hasn’t. The lowest ranked Tory leadership contender will be dumped from the race after today’s ballot of MPs. It’s a rough old game, politics, and someone will feel the humiliation of coming last.
Will it be Liam Fox (who managed to attract just one MP to his event yesterday)? If so, will his backers go for Leadsom, as many expect? Unless they all go for Gove, will Gove attract such little support that he has to drop out too? Ditto for Stephen Crabb (who was on Today calling for ‘bolder’ Government borrowing to invest in the economy).
Theresa May’s status as frontrunner was cemented at the 1922 Committee hustings last night, with MPs banging not just desks but the door to Committee Room 10. In fact, they banged it so hard, one security officer worried the glass was going to pop out.
May has also written a piece for the Daily Mail underlining her security credentials by urging the PM to bring forward a vote on Trident renewal. In fact, the ‘who would you trust with the nuclear codes?’ question is her strongest card, and rams home the point that this is not an election for leader of the Opposition, but for Prime Minister.
And yet it’s not all plain sailing for May. At the second hustings, held by George Freeman’s 2020 Group, May clarified her position on whether she would retain the option of deporting EU citizens from the UK after formal Brexit. She said she ‘hoped’ and ‘expected’ they would stay. Which isn’t what she’s been saying publicly - and was perhaps forced on her by strong lines on this from Leadsom and Crabb, who say such guarantees should be made now.
Depending on who you talk to, May also struggled or dealt neatly with questions on the economy. We are in curious new territory post-Brexit, as not just Crabb but also May and Osborne talking about delaying the deficit balancing timetable. Will knifeman Gove emerge as the only true cutter of public spending in the leadership race?
With George Osborne’s friends letting it be known late last night that he would still like a role in the next Government, it's mooted that he could give May his endorsement. They haven’t always seen eye to eye, but then again, if David Davis can back May (as revealed today), anything can happen.
Never forget that this is a secret ballot. And that all those public promises of support can count for bugger all in a contest that has already seen some of the most mendacious, double-dealing conduct and bloodletting in recent years.
* Paul Waugh Is The Executive Editor, HuffPost, UK.