Home secretary Theresa May has won a substantial victory in the first round of the Conservative party leadership election, with anti-EU challenger Andrea Leadsom coming in second.
Five candidates stood in the ballot, which saw disgraced former cabinet minister Liam Fox finish last and exit the race. He was joined by Stephen Crabb, who later announced he would be dropping out after coming second-last.
May won 165 votes in the secret ballot, just over 50% of the 329 Tory MPs who took part in the contest. Leadsom, a junior energy minister who has no previous cabinet experience but rose to prominence as part of the Vote Leave campaign, came second on 66 votes.
The overwhelming majority support among MPs for Theresa May raises the risk of the Tories entering a similar situation to the Labour party, where the parliamentary party wants one leader but the general party membership pick a different candidate.
Justice secretary Michael Gove came third on 48 votes and work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb took 34. The results were read out in a panelled committee room in the House of Commons by backbench Tory MP Graham Brady, with watching politicians celebrating by banging on tables.
A further ballot of MPs will be held on Thursday to reduce the three remaining candidates to two. Approximately 150,000 ordinary Conservative members will then be asked to vote on which of these two MPs they want to be party leader – and therefore prime minister – with the result announced on 9 September.
"Andrea's done a sterling job for an outsider," said Leadsom supporter Nadine Dorries outside the room where the result was announced, citing a survey of her constituents as evidence of a recent shift in support away from Theresa May. "The more people are getting to know her, the more they're turning."
But Dorries echoed the fears of several Leadsom supporters, who are concerned MPs supporting May could tactically lend their votes to other candidates in order to keep Leadsom off the ballot put to party members.
"It would be wrong for tactical voting to take place in a place like this," she said. "It's dishonourable. It's a huge responsibility on MPs to do the right thing for the country."
Dorries also said none of Leadsom's former Treasury colleagues were backing her for leader because "they're all George Osborne's cronies – George Osborne's reach goes far".
Damian Green MP, a Theresa May backer, said it was now up to the parliamentary party to sell their backing of the home secretary to party members: "After one ballot half the parliamentary party backs her. With every round that passes the chance of tactical voting decreases. I know Theresa disapproves of tactical voting."
Leadsom has defined herself in her pitch to Tory activists as a candidate who can be trusted to take the UK out of the EU, unlike Theresa May, who campaigned for Remain during the referendum.
Chris Heaton-Harris MP, who is backing Leadsom, said his preferred candidate is coming under sustained media attacks and plots because she is a "good strong second-place runner in this race and maybe other people are uncomfortable with that".
Still, he was delighted with the result: "I am chuffed."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at email@example.com.
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