Michael Gove’s campaign urges Theresa May supporters to block Andrea Leadsom in Tory leadership race

Aide says Mr Gove would be prepared to spend 'two months taking a good thrashing from Theresa if that’s what it takes'

Ashey Cowburn,Harry Cockburn
Monday 11 July 2016 11:44 BST
It is in the 'national interest' to keep Andrea Leadsom off the ballot, Michael Gove's campaign manager said
It is in the 'national interest' to keep Andrea Leadsom off the ballot, Michael Gove's campaign manager said (Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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Andrea Leadsom has promised to "banish the pessimists" in the wake of claims her bid for the Tory leadership was being derailed by backstabbing from Michael Gove's campaign chief.

In what was billed as a major speech on the economy, Mrs Leadsom promised "prosperity, not austerity" and said she would be a "realistic, but optimistic" leader for the post-Brexit age.

Despite controversy over her CV and attempts by a member of rival Michael Gove's team to keep her out of the run-off vote for party members by urging supporters of frontrunner Theresa May to back the Justice Secretary in the final round of the MPs' ballot today, Mrs Leadsom did not take questions from journalists.

Instead, her campaign chief Tim Loughton and proposer Penny Mordaunt led a march of blue T-shirt clad activists to Parliament, chanting: "What do we want? Leadsom for leader. When do we want it? Now."The Tory party has been hit by accusations of backstabbing and vote-rigging ahead of the penultimate contest in the bitter battle to be the next prime minister .

It followed news that Michael Gove’s campaign manager had urged supporters of Tory leadership rival Theresa May to vote tactically to prevent Leadsom from reaching the final two candidates.

Nick Boles sent a text to MPs telling them that Mr Gove’s allies were “seriously frightened” about the prospect of Ms Leadsom becoming prime minister, and that it was in the “national interest” to prevent her from making the final run-off which will be decided by party members.

In the leaked text, Mr Boles, MP for Grantham, warned the membership could vote for a “fresh face”, and the party could end up with Ms Leadsom as a surprise winner in much the same way that Iain Duncan Smith, known as IDS, came to lead the party.

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“I respect the fact that you want Theresa May to be the Prime Minister. It is overwhelmingly likely that she will be, and if she does I will sleep easily at night," he said.

“But I am seriously frightened about the risk of allowing Andrea Leadsom onto the membership ballot.

“What if Theresa stumbles? Are we really confident that the membership won't vote for a fresh face who shares their attitudes about much of modern life, like they did with IDS?”

Mr Boles added that Mr Gove would be prepared to spend “two months taking a good thrashing from Theresa if that’s what it takes”.

He signed the text message off with an “x”.

Mr Gove was confronted at an election hustings event about the text with a May supporter saying he responded with “a sort of giggle, and then he sat down. He didn't disown it, because so many MPs have received it, it is quite difficult to disown it”.

However Mr Boles later apologised about the text, tweeting that Mr Gove "did not know about it let alone authorise it. And it does not reflect his views."

Ms Leadsom has faced criticism after receiving the backing of Leave.EU, which has targeted Ms May’s supporters.

According to the Telegraph, one MP said: “A lot of us have been inundated with Leave.EU stuff – I've had at least 70 emails and 50 messages, I've blocked a load of people in the last few days, all of them are Kippers [Ukip members] acting on behalf of Leadsom.

“There is more than a hint of Momentum [the left-wing group that supports Jeremy Corbyn] going on, there have been calls of traitor – anyone who votes against her is traitor.”

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