The sketch: Simon Carr

The decency candidate is off the ticket. So some progress, at least
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The Independent Online

An uncertainty principle works in these ballots for the leadership of the Conservative Party: the more you know, the less able you are to predict. Knowledge produces ignorance and omniscience produces total ignorance. It's not a paradox, it's just the condition of politics.

Look at these tactical voting strategies, a small selection of the best garnered over the day.

If you want Clarke to win you'd need him to be in the final with Portillo because the country would choose Iain Duncan Smith over Clarke, so you'd vote David Davis. To lock up the right-wing vote. Or pedestrian Clarke supporters, not bothering with anything more sophisticated, might naively vote for Portillo. Clearly, those who wanted Duncan Smith would have voted Ancram, so that Davis was knocked out and votes for Duncan Smith released. If you wanted Portillo, you'd vote Ancram; that at least needs no explanation. If you're David Davis, you vote Ken Clarke. (Young cardinals vote for old popes.) If you want Ancram – decent, steady, reliable, the unity candidate – you want your head read. So that's some progress at least. The decency candidate is off the ticket.

Francis Maude stopped by the Sketch's bench, outside the voting room, early in the afternoon. He is Michael Portillo's urbane campaign manager. In point of fact, he's 18 per cent more urbane than Michael Portillo. He said: "We're expecting a bit of slippage, frankly. We won't be surprised to receive fewer votes than last time." Later, Bernard Jenkin, managing Iain Duncan Smith's campaign, approached the bench: "We think we'll come in slightly under Tuesday's result." How interesting. Why were they saying their vote would fall? Because they were expecting their votes to rise. Obviously. And they were right. Both did.

Seven people switched their vote. Two of these were Tory whips Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and James Gray. They wouldn't say whom they had voted for last time, nor this time, but the whips were switching. But they were keeping their jobs, so the switches were also whipping. Both good Tories. Traditional practices. Core values. Carry on Conservative, whipping and switching.

Michael Portillo put in quite a good performance at the press gallery lunch. He talked calmly, rationally, urbanely of the need to be passionate. It was like someone saying "Speaking as a gentleman...". You'd assume such a person was pretending to be a gentleman. "We must show we are passionate about the NHS" means "We are not passionate about the NHS".

His prescriptions for the Tory party are very far from what he goes on to say. He calls for a party that is challenging. Radical. Modern. Dynamic. Inclusive. Unafraid of debate.

"What about gay marriages?" he was asked. "I'm not going to say anything about that."

"Why not?"

"Because I haven't thought about it."

"Why not?"

"Because I haven't had to."

He looked away, rather icily. There are times, too many to mention actually, when Mr Portillo's warm, friendly, engaging manner is replaced by a sheet of Perspex. He lets this happen on television. It's a form of suicide for a politician.

To return to the lunch. Drugs? Why concentrate on cannabis when there's the ecstasy question unresolved? "I've been so misquoted on that subject, I shall say no more." That was radical perhaps, but not as challenging as it might have been. Does it say "unafraid of debate" to you? You may have better hearing than I do.

He's still the front-runner, however. And the incoming fire has been intense recently. But he is still there.

Someone said: "Next week it gets real."

Well, that's not true. That's the only thing we know for certain. Q: Why do the Tory scrutineers take 20 minutes to count 166 ballot papers? A: It's not the counting that takes the time, it's the putting on of their shoes and socks afterwards.

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