This is my scenario for how the last two days of the MPs’ stage of the Tory leadership ballot will play out – which of course by definition means none of it will happen (and the clever money probably bets against me).
Most of the 30 votes won by the defeated Brexiteer Dominic Raab will transfer to Johnson – with perhaps just a few going to Sajid Javid, following his loud commitment to take the UK out of the EU by 31 October, no ifs or buts.
So it will be touch and go who is knocked out today, Javid or Rory Stewart – because Stewart’s decision to cast himself in the BBC debate last night as the only ‘honest’ candidate, against four putative con artists, will have reinforced some Tories’ fears that he is too divisive a character. Then, on Thursday, 313 Tory MPs have to decide who they want to pit against Johnson in four weeks of intense campaigning and hustings to win a majority of the votes of more than 100,000 Tory members.
If Javid sneaks home again, which he may do, then my guess is he becomes a casualty tomorrow. It would then be a play-off between Hunt and Gove – between the clever determined technocrat Hunt and the politician Gove who, with Johnson, persuaded 52% of the country to vote for Brexit and then fell out with him.
Many Tories believe only Gove can defeat Johnson, because having known and worked with him pretty much all his adult life, he knows best where he is vulnerable. But it would be high farce, Grand Guignol, for the final battle to be between the two who so spectacularly fell out during the 2016 leadership contest. So there would be the risk of collateral damage to the Tory party. It is quite a dilemma for non-committed Tory MPs, whether or not to test Johnson against his fiercest opponent, Gove.
I think that is where they will end up, but – as I said at the outset – my working assumption is that all my predictions will turn out wrong.
Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared in his ITV news blog.
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