NEVER seriously considered to be in the running, Liam Fox has been discharged from the Tory leadership contest in the first round as Theresa May took more than half of the votes cast by Conservative MPs.
Under the rules of engagement the candidate receiving the lowest backing is progressively knocked out of the running, until the two finalists square off against one another in a one-off vote.
At the end of the first ballot, former Secretary of State for Defence and expenses scoundrel, Dr Fox won the backing of just 16 of his parliamentary colleagues, while the Home Secretary May was supported by a healthy 165.
Leading Brexiteer, Energy Minister and former banker Andrea Leadsom took second place with 66 votes while Michael Gove, the baby-faced assassin of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street ambitions, won 48.
Hovering towards the bottom with a paltry 34 backers was Stephen Crabb, whose Welsh working man shtick has been overshadowed by the necessity to pretend he loves homosexuals and doesn’t believe in a ‘gay cure’.
Crabb is now under pressure to drop out of the race as the party membership is eager to wrap things up as soon as possible before Labour sort out their own mess.
With more than 50 per cent of the votes, Theresa May finds herself in a strong position although, with Gove’s backers likely to shift to Leadsom as the ‘Brexit candidate’ should he drop out, the scene is set for a direct duel between the two women in the coming weeks.
It should be remembered that the first ballot numbers hardly have a chequered history as bellweather indicators, with David Davis winning in 2005, Michael Portillo in 2001, Ken Clarke in 1997, and Thatcher in 1990 as she was ousted by her matricidal colleagues.
Speaking of Ken Clarke, the pro-Europe Tory grandee was caught on camera making a series of unguarded remarks on the characters of the variously vacuous contenders as he spoke with fellow dinosaur Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
“I don’t think the membership will vote for Gove. I remember being in a discussion about something to do with somewhere like Syria or Iraq and he was so wild that I remember exchanging looks with Liam Fox, who is much more rightwing than me,” said Clarke during the exchange.
“We were exchanging views and Liam was raising eyebrows. I think with Michael as prime minister we’d go to war with at least three countries at once.”
“He did us all a favour by getting rid of Boris. The idea of Boris as prime minister is ridiculous,” Clarke added for good measure.
On Andrea Leadsom he was slightly kinder, remarking that at least she “is not one of the tiny band of lunatics who think we can have a sort of glorious economic future outside the single market…so long as she understands that she’s not to deliver on some of the extremely stupid things she’s been saying.”
Later announcing that he would probably vote for Theresa May, Clarke described the Home Secretary as “a bloody difficult woman” but joked with Rifkind that, post-Thatcher, they’d learned to deal with such feisty female leaders, and the two old men shed streaming tears of laughter.