SNIP! The guillotine blade sliced three names from the Tory leadership ballot paper yesterday. Bye-bye, Mark Harper. Adios, Andrea Leadsom. Hasta la vista, Esther McVey.
No well-dones. No thanks-awfullys. No better-luck-next-times. Politics, it’s a brutal business. But would we have it any other way?
About a hundred of us gathered to hear the result in the Gladstone Room, a beautiful, oak-panelled space overlooking the Thames. What a grand, imposing setting it was. Bottle-green Pugin wallpaper. Portcullis chairs. Sumptuous art.
The room has the feel of an Old Bailey courtroom but as we awaited the announcement it took on the boisterous atmosphere of a college dining hall. Each time the door opened there were exaggerated gasps of expectation. Rory Stewart played the class clown, ribbing his colleagues and cackling at his own jokes. Nerves?
Dame Cheryl Gillan with Charles Walker (left) and Bob Blackman (right) reads out the results of the first ballot in the Tory leadership ballot at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster on Thursday – Mark Harper, Andrea Leadsom, and Esther McVey failed to make the cut
Tory leadership hopeful Rory Stewart grins as he is driven to the Houses of Parliament for the first round of voting
Michael Gove is pictured leaving Parliament on Thursday – he came in third place, despite calls to pull out of the race
Eventually, acting head of the 1922 Committee Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) entered. There had been a 100 per cent turnout, she said in librarian tones, and no spoiled ballot papers.
The scores read out provided few surprises. So no daft ‘oohs’ or ‘aahs’. Once the deed was done, MPs wrapped their knuckles on their desks approvingly. Out with the time-wasters – now they can get this party started.
Voting had taken place along the committee corridor, a 200-yard strip inside the Palace of Westminster. All morning, the place oozed intrigue and machination. Backbenchers love days like these. Suddenly everyone is interested in them. It’s their version of an awards show. Liz Truss dressed up especially in a bright pink pantsuit. She looked like a Quality Street choc but twice as scrummy.
Most of the candidates arrived early. Raab, Leadsom, Hancock, Gove. ‘Who did you vote for, Michael?’ joked one wag. ‘The best candidate, of course,’ he chuckled.
Just past 10.30am, Theresa May swooshed past with her PPS Andrew Bowie (West Aberdeenshire) in tow. Whose name was the PM putting a cross against? ‘None of your business!’ she squawked over her shoulder, Bowie scampering to keep up.
Not long after, Tory turncoat Heidi Allen (party TBC) sauntered past, followed moments later by her trailing mane of Timotei hair. She doesn’t get a vote any more, does she? ‘No, and I’m glad I don’t either.’ Bitter? Moi?
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey speaks at the launch of her short-lived leadership campaign
Former Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom formally launched her bid on Tuesday, only to be told she had lost out yesterday
Conservative MP Mark Harper speaks at his campaign launch – about a hundred turned up in the Gladstone Room to hear he was among the bottom three to be cut
Rory Stewart and his wife Shoshana Clark dawdled for a while. Stewart was in the mood for fighting talk. ‘I’ve always said the only people who can stop Boris are me and Boris,’ he said. But he didn’t seem altogether certain he’d got the requisite 13 votes to survive.
Later on, there would be a mad rush to find one of Rory’s backers, Ken Clarke, who’d gone AWOL ahead of the midday voting deadline. Enjoying a nap would have been my guess. Either that or polishing off a large cigar.
Esther McVey’s fiance Philip Davies (Shipley) pitched up pulling a wheelie case. ‘I’ve told ‘im if ‘e doesn’t vote for me, ‘e’s movin’ owt,’ explained Scouse Esther.
There was another potential domestic involving husband and wife Andrea Jenkyns (Morley and Outwood) and Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke). Jenkyns voted for Boris while Jack is rooting for Raab. ‘Oh no, no, we’re all Brexiteers together,’ Lopresti mumbled, slightly unconvincingly.
Suddenly, a tremor in the floorboards. Fast approaching came the not inconsiderable troika of Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex), Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) and man-of-the-hour Boris Johnson (Uxbridge).
Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt is driven to the Houses of Parliament for the first round of voting for the Conservative party leadership at the Commons
There was a mad rush to find Ken Clarke (pictured arriving for the vote), one of Rory Stewart’s backers, before the midday ballot as he seemed to have gone AWOL
Up close, you really notice how much weight Boris has lost. We jostled with him for a while for a chat, but as it has through much of this campaign, the Johnson gob remained firmly zipped. His supporters, though, were out in force. Cool-cat minister James Cleverly said Boris’s record as London Mayor showed he was the man for the job. Sir John Redwood (Wokingham) revealed he was another surprise backer. Most assumed he was a Raab man.
Walrus-chopped John Whittingdale (Maldon) was eager to let it be known he’d been aboard Team Boris from the off. Bojo’s squeeze Carrie Symonds, he advised, was a ‘huge, huge asset’. Background briefing: ‘Apples’ (aka Symonds) once upon a time was avuncular Whitto’s special adviser.
Clot of the day was David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) who was turned away from the polling station because he’d forgotten his security pass.
Next up: Super Tuesday. Then the race to find the man to beat Boris really hots up.