THE FIGHT to become the next leader of the Conservative Party goes down to the wire this morning as contenders frantically try to amass enough backing from MPs to challenge Theresa May.
The Home Secretary is the favourite candidate among members so far with 97 MPs publicly backing her and yesterday she swept up two more staunch Boris Johnson campaigners to her camp.
Michael Gove was overtaken by Andrea Leadsom as the second most popular candidate but the Justice Secretary remains intent on making the final two on the ballot paper that eventually goes out to party members.
However, speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post he said he would naturally accept the result of the contest.
When asked how he was feeling ahead of today’s vote, he said: “The key thing was to make the argument and stand by your principles and say what you believe and accept the verdict whatever happens.”
He said he was feeling confident and encouraged by the support he was receiving, and he was pleased that those backing him were people he liked and admired.
He said: “More and more people are supporting us and it’s great to have two bright young MPs in Yorkshire backing me, Rishi Sunak and Andrea Jenkyns.
“I’ve known Rishi since before he took over William Hague’s seat in Richmond and he is a fantastic guy and we are getting support from both Leave and Remain, new MPs and also some of the very experienced, older hands like John Whittingdale. Considering we only launched the campaign on Friday it’s encouraging.”
It is understood Mr Gove’s campaign was significantly buoyed by receiving the backing of farming Minister George Eustice who campaigned for Brexit.
However a survey of 1214 Conservative Party members carried out by Tory blog Conservative Home puts Andrea Leadsom on 38 per cent of the vote - one percentage point ahead of Theresa May.
Of the 330 Conservative MPs who have publicly declared who they are backing Mrs May has 97 nominations, Mr Gove 26, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom 34, work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb 23 and Liam Fox 8.
The Conservative Party use a voting mechanism called the ‘exhaustive ballot’ and the first round of begins today in which MPs vote for one of the five candidates. The person with the lowest vote is eliminated and subsequent voting for the four remaining candidates begins on Thursday.
Mrs May’s campaign was boosted by declarations of support from two former Boris Johnson backers, Braintree MP James Cleverly and former leadership contender David Davis, who represents Haltemprice and Howden.
Mr Cleverly was visibly stunned on Thursday when Boris Johnson announced that he was not going to run in the Tory leadership contest at the St Ermin’s hotel in central London, just an hour after Mr Gove said he would also be standing.
Despite campaigning to leave the EU, he said he would rather give his support to Remainer Mrs May and made much of “trust” in his briefing to the Press.
He said: “Of the two candidates who have been in cabinet over the last six years, I ask myself, ‘who do I trust more?”
“Who do I trust most to have the desire and ability to deliver Brexit? I trust Theresa May.”
Voting closes at 6pm in the first ballot with the result due at 6.30pm.
Opinion: Page 11.