May steams ahead in Tory leadership race

 
Helen Cahill
Follow Helen
Theresa May is the frontrunner in the race

Theresa May has consolidated her lead in the Tory leadership race, as it emerged nearly one hundred Conservatives back the Home Secretary's bid for the top job - as Andrea Leadsom sneaked ahead of pro-Brexit rival Michael Gove.

Ninety-six MPs voiced their support for May on Friday evening, with 160 yet to declare their voting intentions. Leadsom had the backing of 21, and Gove 18, according to Sky News research.

Iain Duncan Smith came out in support of Leadsom this morning, saying she was the "right person to lead" the nation in upcoming negotiations with Europe.

Several cabinet members have said May is their preference for leader, including Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Fallon and Patrick McLoughlin.

May emerged as the bookies' firm favourite to win on Thursday after Boris Johnson announced he would not be putting his hat into the ring.

Johnson quit after his fellow Leave campaigner Gove said his was running, saying: "Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead."

The Machiavellian move from Gove has not won him much favour with other MPs, however, and Leadsom has since been touted as the pro-Brexit choice for the leadership.

Announcing her intention to run on Thursday, Leadsom tweeted: "Let's make the most of the Brexit opportunities! #FreshStart".

Leadsom will pitch herself as the MP most passionate about ensuring Brexit actually happens. May supported David Cameron's Remain camp, but stayed quiet as the EU referendum campaign unfolded, and came out relatively untarnished.

The candidates will face off in a series of ballots starting on Tuesday, and the two favourites will go on to a vote of the party membership. The result is due on 9 September.

Writing in the Telegraph today, Andy Coulson, Cameron's former spin-doctor, described May as a "safe pair of hands" in comparison to Gove, "the wit of Westminster".