Campaigns hunt for the crucial 'switchers'

Tory leadership: With Michael Ancram eliminated from the race, Conservative MPs gear up for a fresh round of gossip and arm-twisting
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Indy Politics

Tory MPs are bracing themselves for a fresh round of plotting, number-crunching and arm-twisting as the hunt for the crucial "switchers" in the leadership race begins in earnest.

The Commons bars, tea rooms and terrace overlooking the Thames were filled with intrigue after the elimination of Michael Ancram in the re-run first round ballot. Because of the tied result on Tuesday, MPs had spent yesterday listening to gentle and not-so-gentle persuasion from rival camps as the countdown began to the 5pm deadline for the vote.

Although attention focused on Committee Room 14, the venue for the ballot, much of the activity took place in the Lobby of the Commons and other favoured meeting places in the Palace of Westminster. Each camp had its own approach to canvassing for support, although all of them had their candidate meeting potential "switchers" in their private offices.

The David Davis campaign began the day early by posting his characteristically slick postcards, with the slogan "Vote for the Dark Horse today", under the doors and in the pigeonholes of all 166 MPs. Mr Davis was so relaxed that he spent the morning listening to Gwyneth Dunwoody speak at the Hansard conference in Westminster.

Not too surprisingly, the Ancram camp was nervous about its chances and spent most of its time trying to hold on to its MPs instead of persuading others. Kenneth Clarke's supporters and those of Iain Duncan Smith were the most active in attempting to rally support from possible defectors in the Ancram and Davis teams.

As the rancour between camps spread, Portillistas even accused some of the more zealous of Mr Duncan Smith's allies of "strong-arming" MPs with offers of jobs.

But in an attempt to kill off such speculation, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence was moved to go public himself. "There are no promises of jobs. There can't be," he said. "You just don't know you will be able to deliver. It is mad to trap yourself into any position like that."

One of his aides added: "The reason the Portillistas are moaning is because they are jealous of our organisation. We simply have more people on the ground."

Mr Portillo's camp said its approach was more laid-back. "We bump into people and ask them how things are going. There is no pressure," one ally said. Defying negative headlines in the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun, Mr Portillo himself entered the lion's den when he gave a speech at a lunch in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. He worked the room impressively, cracking jokes and generally charming journalists.

Nevertheless, the first signs of tension in the Portillo camp emerged when gossip spread that Nicholas Soames, the formidable former defence minister, had had a "frank exchange of views" with Francis Maude, the shadow Chancellor's campaign manager.

Many of the ruthless charm offensives took place in the Smoking Room, long-standing haunt of Tory backbenchers where many wiled away their time plotting over a stiff Scotch.

Rumour and half-truth dominated the day, with some believing that Mr Ancram was certain to announce he was backing Mr Duncan Smith on being eliminated. Both Mr Maude and Bernard Jenkin, Mr Duncan Smith's campaign manager, tried to massage expectations by claiming their support could drop.

Mr Duncan Smith gave a speech to Tory peers, impressing those gathered with his clear, right-wing approach.

With little business in the Commons chamber, voting began with a flood of MPs when the ballot opened at 1pm. A trickle of voters then continued throughout the afternoon, each padding down the thickly carpeted Committee corridor to cast their ballot.

When MPs trooped out after the results were announced by Sir Michael Spicer, the 1922 Committee chairman, many Portillistas looked uneasy, moving off without comment. Those who did stay around put their best spin on the outcome. "People can now focus on who they want as leader instead of on who they want eliminated," said David Willetts. Andrew Mac-Kay, Mr Portillo's chief "numbers man" in the Commons, said: "People vote tactically – it's a practice I deplore, but there you are. We can now begin approaching the Ancram votes."

Another Portillista said, half-joking: "We've hit the magic 50." Whether the joke will be on Mr Portillo after a weekend of pressure on MPs from their associations is another matter.


How the MPs say they voted

Michael Portillo 49

Michael Portillo, Peter Ainsworth, Greg Barker, John Bercow, John Butterfill, David Cameron, Stephen Dorrell (seconder), Alan Duncan, Nigel Evans, Michael Fabricant, Mark Field, Howard Flight, Adrian Flook, Liam Fox, Edward Garnier, Nick Gibb, Cheryl Gillan, Chris Grayling, Damian Green, Philip Hammond, Nick Hawkins, David Heathcoat-Amory, Mark Hoban, Robert Key, Julie Kirkbride, Oliver Letwin, David Lidington, Peter Lilley, Tim Loughton, Andrew MacKay, Francis Maude (proposer), Theresa May, Andrew Murrison, Archie Norman, George Osborne, Richard Ottaway, Mark Prisk, Andrew Robathan, Hugh Robertson, David Ruffley, Keith Simpson, Nicholas Soames, Richard Spring, Gary Streeter, Robert Syms, Nigel Waterson, David Willetts, John Wilkinson, Tim Yeo.

Iain Duncan Smith 29

Iain Duncan Smith, Julian Brazier, Angela Browning (seconder), William Cash, Christopher Chope, Jonathan Djanogly, Peter Duncan, Michael Fallon, Mark Francois, John Hayes, Gerald Howarth, Andrew Hunter, Bernard Jenkin (proposer), Edward Leigh, Julian Lewis, Patrick Mercer, Owen Paterson, Eric Pickles, Laurence Robertson, Andrew Rosindell, Andrew Selous, Richard Shepherd, Mark Simmonds, Desmond Swayne, Peter Tapsell, Sir Teddy Taylor, Andrew Turner, Angela Watkinson, Bill Wiggin.

Kenneth Clarke 22

Tony Baldry, Alistair Burt, James Clappison, Kenneth Clarke, Sir Patrick Cormack, David Curry, Quentin Davies, John Greenway (seconder), John Gummer, Oliver Heald, John Horam, Robert Jackson, Boris Johnson, Humphrey Malins, John Maples, Michael Mates, Ann Macintosh, Anthony Steen, Ian Taylor, Andrew Tyrie, Robert Walter, Sir George Young (proposer).

David Davis 16

David Davis, Richard Bacon, John Baron, Graham Brady, Simon Burns, Derek Conway, Eric Forth, Roger Gale, Paul Goodman, Dominic Grieve, Greg Knight, David Maclean, Andrew Mitchell (seconder), James Paice, Peter Viggers (proposer), David Wilshire.

Michael Ancram 12

Michael Ancram, Crispin Blunt, Tim Boswell, Peter Bottomley, Tim Collins, Charles Hendry, Eleanor Laing (seconder), Malcolm Moss, Stephen O'Brien, Jonathan Sayeed, John Taylor, Ann Widdecombe (proposer).

Refused to say 24

David Amess, David Atkinson, Henry Bellingham, Paul Beresford, Virginia Bottomley, Sir Sydney Chapman, Michael Howard, Douglas Hogg, Michael Jack, Jaqui Lait, Ian Lidell-Grainger, Brian Mawhinney, Richard Page, John Redwood, Marion Roe, Gillian Shepherd, Caroline Spelman, Bob Spink, John Stanley, Hugo Swire, David Tredinnick, Michael Trend, Ann Winterton, Nicholas Winterton.

Position 'prevented them from saying' 11

James Arbuthnot (chief whip), James Cran (whip), William Hague (leader), Sir Alan Haselhurst (deputy speaker), Andrew Lansley (Shadow Minister for Cabinet Office), Sir Michael Lord (depity speaker), Peter Luff (whip), Patrick McLoughlin (deputy chief whip), John Randall (whip), Sir Michael Spicer (chairman of 1922 committee), John Whittingdale (PPS to William Hague).

Admitted switching 2

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (whip), James Gray (whip).

Mischevious 1

Peter Atkinson (whip) - "I voted for Michael," he said, without specifying which one.