Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has emerged as a strong contender to succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader after drawing level with Boris Johnson in the eyes of party members.
A survey of more than 700 grassroots members by the ConservativeHome website found that 21 per cent want the Mayor of London to succeed Mr Cameron, 20 per cent Mr Gove, while 16.5 per cent favour Theresa May, the Home Secretary and 15 per cent William Hague, the Foreign Secretary and 14 per cent David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary.
Mr Gove has impressed Tory MPs and members with his performance at the Department for Education since 2010. In the previous poll in May, Mr Johnson was backed by 30 per cent of Tory members, Mr Gove 17 per cent, Mr Davis and Mr Hague 16 per cent and Mrs May 12 per cent. Members have the final say when the party elects its leader.
Mr Gove insists he does not want to be prime minister and is not cut out for the job. But some Tory MPs believe he does not want to be seen as angling for the leadership and could be persuaded to stand if there were a vacancy.