ANALYSIS: Gavin Williamson proves LBJ's first rule of politics: learn to count

Posted On: 
20th June 2019

Earlier today, I bumped into Gavin Williamson and asked him whether Boris Johnson would be lending supporters to Jeremy Hunt in order to knock Michael Gove out of the Tory leadership race.

Gavin Williamson brought home the bacon for Boris Johnson.
Credit: 
PA Images

No way, Johnson's numbers man and chief whip assured me.

"I have been saying to all MPs: 'vote for who you think will make the best Prime Minister' and the answer to that is Boris Johnson," he replied.

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson to face Tory leadership showdown after Michael Gove knocked out

Dominic Raab backs Boris Johnson for PM as 'only candidate' to meet October Brexit deadline

Dominic Raab eliminated from Tory leader race as Boris Johnson cements lead

I was sceptical then, and utterly incredulous now.

The numbers really do speak for themselves. Between the fourth and fifth ballot of Tory MPs, runaway favourite Johnson put on a measly three votes.

That is despite 34 of them being up for grabs following Sajid Javid's elimination earlier in the day.

Even more curiously, four Javid supporters - Chris Philp, Kevin Foster, Chris Skidmore and Mike Wood - publicly declared that they would be backing Johnson after their man was knocked out.

Michael Gove picked up 14 of the Javid votes, but Jeremy Hunt gained 18 - enough to allow him to pip his rival by just two votes.

Gove's campaign manager, Mel Stride, tried to dismiss suggestions that his guy had fallen victim to Gavin Williamson-inspired skullduggery.

"My gut feeling is that nothing of that nature significantly has happened," he said.

But Team Gove will be disappointed and angry in equal measure. Their man recovered from a horrific start to his campaign to come within touching distance of the final two.

The Johnson camp, by contrast, will be cock-a-hoop. Their man may be an odds-on certainty to be PM, but there is no doubt that his old foe Gove would have presented a more difficult opponent in the final run-off than Hunt.

Lyndon B Johnson famously said that the first rule of politics was that its "practitioners need to be able to count".

Gavin Williamson - a former chief whip - certainly can, and will surely be well rewarded when Johnson makes it into Number 10.