As Ken Clarke is caught off camera...

May in pole position as Crabb and Fox drop out of Tory race

Theresa MayTheresa May appears to have built an unassailable lead in the race to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader and Prime Minister after half of the party’s MPs backed her campaign.

She also won the backing of Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb who decided to withdraw his candidacy and throw his support behind the Home Secretary.

Mrs May received 165 votes in the first round, well ahead of second placed Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom who garnered 66 and Justice Secretary Michael Gove with 48.

Former defence secretary Liam Fox was eliminated after just 16 MPs backed his bid. Mr Crabb was fourth with 34.

Mr Crabb said that Mrs May was only the candidate who could unite the party. Dr Fox also backed Mrs May, but Mr Gove insisted he was still in the battle.

While Mrs May looks destined for Downing Street, some say that she will not command the same level of support among party members across the country.

They will choose from the two final candidates in a postal ballot due to end on 9 September.

The only Tory MP who did not vote in the contest was David Cameron, who has declined to back a candidate.

Former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke made his views known about the candidates while being interviewed by Sky News. He was unaware that his comments to fellow grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind were being recorded.

Mr Clarke, known for saying in public what he believes in private, later said he stood by his comments. Here’s what he said:

Theresa May – “Theresa’s a bloody difficult woman, but you and I worked for Margaret Thatcher…I get on alright with her and she is good. She’s too narrow on Home department, the thing I don’t know, she’s been at the Home Office far too long so I only know in detail what her views are on the Home Office, she doesn’t know much about foreign affairs.”

Michael Gove – “I don’t think the membership will vote for Gove. I remember being in a discussion once about something we should do in somewhere like Syria or Iraq and he was so wild I remember exchanging looks with Liam Fox, who’s much more right-wing than me, but we exchanged views and Liam was raising eyebrows and I think with Michael as Prime Minister we’d go to war with at least three countries at once.”

Boris Johnson –  “[Gove] did us all a favour by getting rid of Boris. The idea of Boris as Prime Minister is ridiculous…I don’t think either Andrea Leadsom or Boris Johnson actually were in favour of leaving the European Union. It was the obvious thing that the voters, ie Conservative party members, are going to vote Leave.”

Andrea Leadsom – “She’s had a Pauline conversion and she does have experience in the City and the Bank of England and she’s not one of the mindless, tiny band of lunatics who think we can have a sort of glorious economic future outside the Single Market. So long as she understands she’s not to deliver on some of the extremely stupid things she’s been saying, I hope these two we’re going to see today prove me wrong. It’s Stephen [Crabb] and Theresa, one of them’s actually begun to have the slightest idea of what they’re going to do.”


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