Tory leadership rivals face second round of votes as Johnson heads for TV debate
Front-runner Boris Johnson is set to join a live TV debate on Tuesday.
The battle for the Tory crown is revving up with a fresh round of voting in the leadership stakes as Boris Johnson prepares to break cover and take part in TV debates.
Tory MPs will vote in the second bout of the contest to select Britain’s next prime minister on Tuesday ahead of a live TV debate that will feature the front-runner and former foreign secretary, Mr Johnson.
Candidates need to gain at least 33 votes from MPs to remain in the race to reach the final run-off, which will see some 160,000 Tory members select the next prime minister.
If all candidates pass the 33-vote threshold, the one with the lowest total will be eliminated and by the end of the week, four of the six current riders will be forced out, leaving the final two to go head-to-head for votes from the Tory grassroots.
Mr Johnson won the support of former leadership contender Andrea Leadsom, who said he would be a “very good leader for our country”.
And International Development Secretary Rory Stewart’s campaign was boosted by the backing of Cabinet Office Minister and de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington.
Mr Stewart only secured 19 votes in the first round of voting, but is trying to position himself as the “change” candidate who can defeat Mr Johnson in the July run-off.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he has “no problem” being the “stop Boris” candidate, and that he would “love” to go against Mr Johnson in the final two.
“I have no problem with that, and I would love to go against him in the final two in order to give members the chance to choose whether they want Boris’s Brexit or mine.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who got 23 votes in the last round, is also insistent he is in with a chance as he emphasises his appeal as a fresh face for the Tory Party.
He described himself as “less Homer’s Iliad and more Homer Simpson” in the race to become the next prime minister, and warned that the Tory leadership race risked looking like a debate at the Oxford Union if the final candidates are all from similar backgrounds.
“I may have been Culture Secretary but I don’t have the oratory of Cicero, it’s less Homer’s Iliad and more Homer Simpson. But I try my best to connect and I think it’s very important as a modern Conservative Party that we reach out to those modern audiences,” he told Today.
Mr Johnson, who topped the initial poll with 114 votes, refused to take part in hustings with journalists on Monday, but was set to join rivals for a candidates’ debate on the BBC on Tuesday.
Mr Lidington, who had supported Health Secretary Matt Hancock before he quit the race, said Mr Stewart was the right person to best connect the Tory Party with the country.
The Cabinet Office Minister told a pro-Stewart gathering in London: “I think there is a yearning in this country for political leaders who tell it straight to people.
“What Rory has done in his campaign is to demonstrate that there are no no-go areas in this country for him or for the party which he aspires to lead.”
The backing for Mr Stewart saw reports that Environment Secretary Michael Gove was trying to present Mr Stewart as a “polarising” candidate who would promote “blue-on-blue” Tory infighting if he made the final run-off.
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