EXCL Boost for Boris Johnson as Tory bosses consider widening leadership ballot
Tory bosses are to discuss whether to allow four candidates to go on the final ballot paper for the party's leadership election, PoliticsHome has learned.
At the moment, only two contenders are allowed through to the final run-off, with a ballot of party members deciding which of them is the winner.
But it has emerged that the executive of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers and the party's ruling board are to consider calls to double that number to four.
That would be a huge boost for Boris Johnson, who is considered the favourite among the membership but faces a campaign by Tory MPs to keep him off the final ballot paper.
One member of the 1922 Committee executive said: "The next big battle is over how many candidates get through to the final ballot.
"Some people want it expanded to four, but others believe it should stay at two, so we'll need to figure that out. But the final rules for the leadership contest have yet to be decided."
At least a dozen Tory MPs are expected to take part in the leadership race, which could begin as early as next month.
Theresa May has agreed to set out a timetable for her departure if MPs reject the Withdrawal Agreement Bill when it is voted on in two weeks.
A YouGov poll of Tory members last week gave Boris Johnson a commanding lead over his nearest rival, Dominic Raab.
Esther McVey and Rory Stewart have already confirmed they are running, and are expected to be joined by Andrea Leadsom, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid, among others.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson refused to comment on suggestions that the leadership rules may be changed.
However, it is understood that he is not among those calling for the shake-up.
Writing for ConservativeHome in March, Tory backbencher Johnny Mercer - another who could stand for the leadership - said expanding the final run-off to four candidates would ensure it was not a straight fight between a Remainer and a Leaver.
He said: "MPs should select down to the last four, not two. Then our membership surely must have their properly weighted say, in a single transferable vote contest. The contest itself would be invigorating for our movement. It would electrify a country crying out for genuine political leadership. It would create an environment for authentic discussion of modern Conservatism."