By Iain Houten
Last Updated: 18th June 2019
Few would argue that anyone but Rory Stewart won Channel 4’s ‘Britain’s Next PM’ debate, but it’s hard to see how the Secretary of State for International Development makes it through the end of the week in the Conservative party leadership contest.
Boris Johnson is still long odds-on favourite to win the race and doesn’t appear to have been hurt in the slightest by skipping the first televised debate, with his five opponents largely eschewing the opportunity to stick the boot in.
Stewart still seems very unlikely to join Johnson in the final two, which will be decided by the end of this week after up to five further ballots among MPs, with the remaining pair subsequently voted on by the wider party membership.
Johnson is practically guaranteed a spot in the final two since securing over a third of the parliamentary party in the first round of voting, with the former Foreign Secretary feeling secure enough in his position to venture out to a BBC debate after the second ballot on Tuesday.
Johnson’s main rivals – a three-way race
He will almost certainly face Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, both of whom are currently just over the threshold of 33 declared votes to make the second round.
After typically strong debate performances, particularly from Gove, the experienced pair may even pick up a few switches ahead of the next stage if other campaigns begin to fray at the edges.
Dominic Raab’s camp must be in meltdown after their man’s performance, with the former Brexit Secretary taken apart from all sides – especially on the prospect of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit – and left looking like the angry candidate.
Sajid Javid is also in big trouble after a nervous performance. The Home Secretary could see his vote eaten up by Stewart in the next couple of days if the moderate – perhaps ‘Osbornite’ – wing of the party decides they need a champion.
The momentum behind Stewart, the only candidate who was clapped throughout, may take him as far as the debate with Johnson on Tuesday night, but the numbers don’t add up to the breakout star making it any further.
Nothing Stewart could say in a debate with Johnson is going to make much difference among Tory MPs or the apparently ultra-conservative, largely-ancient membership.
If he’s still there on Wednesday morning, after landing a few blows on Boris in the BBC debate, Stewart will truly have stamped his brand of thoughtful, modern conservatism on the race, and will have made the running for when the party comes to its senses.
That’s not going to happen any time soon, with Tory MPs unlikely to test the membership’s patience by sending them a candidate who has suggested he would effectively set up a Citizen’s Assembly of 50,000 people to solve Brexit.
Despite Stewart securing the support of just 21 MPs so far – 18 fewer than Gove and 24 behind Hunt – the Johnson-Stewart combo is as short as 13/8 in the final two betting, with Johnson-Hunt the same odds.
Next Tory Party Leader betting tips: Previously flagged up at 5/1 before the first round of voting, 10/3 about Johnson-Gove in the final two betting still looks the best bet left in this race.