Rory Stewart tonight called for a 300,000-strong centrist army to form a Tory version of Momentum and take over the Conservative Party and force a leftward lurch in its politics.
The leadership race loser called for tens of thousands to sign up to the party to counteract the apparent hardline Brexiteer majority in its ranks as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt prepared to face off to become Prime Minister.
The surprise package of the internecine battle to become Tory leader addressed a ‘losers rally’ in central London tonight, telling the crowd they could make the Conservative the ‘party of the centre ground’.
‘The way that you will do that is by joining’, he added:
‘The way that you will do that is by getting 300,000 members in to that party and making it again the party of the centre ground.
‘An invitation to join a movement, an invitation also for some of you to do what you will be reluctant to do, which is re-engage with politics directly.’
He was pictured conversing with attendees, who many of which looked extremely engaged in his chat – while he clutched onto a pint.
At some points Mr Stewart started to look a little bit bleary eyed but managed to continue to chat with the groups of people around him.
The surprise package of the Tory leadership race addressed a ‘losers rally’ in central London tonight, telling the crowd they could make the Conservative the ‘party of the centre ground’.
Attendees looked engaged with Mr Stewart as he seemed to be engrossed in conversation with a group of people, while clutching onto his pint
People gathered on the balcony behind Mr Stewart as the press took photos behind him
Nice to meet you! Mr Stewart took the time to shake hands with those in attendance and everyone seemed to be having a good time
His call will lead to comparisons with the Hard-Left Momentum group which was set up to support Jeremy Corbyn as he took control of the Labour Party in 2015 and attack his enemies.
The International Development Secretary was eliminated from the battle for Downing Street yesterday after his campaign went backwards and he dropped from 37 votes to 27.
Mr Stewart and his supporters were then thrust into the role of potential king-makers for either Jeremy Hunt or Michael Gove as they fought for second place and the right to face Boris Johnson in the final two.
But he dealt a blow to both of their campaigns today as he said he would not be publicly backing anyone in the race to takeover from Theresa May.
However, he said he will be voting for one of the candidates in the privacy of the secret ballot.
He said: ‘I will not be declaring for anyone today – but I will be voting.’
Mr Hunt secured 54 votes in the third round of voting while Mr Gove was close behind on 51 and both pinned their hopes of success on winning over the backers of Mr Stewart.
Mr Stewart took time out to enjoy a pint and to meet and talk to members of the public and seemed more that happy to engage in conversation
In the end Mr Hunt went through with 77, just two votes ahead of the Environment Secretary.
Mr Stewart organised the rally on London’s Southbank this evening at the same venue as where he launched his campaign to say thank you to his supporters.
Announcing the plan in a video published on his Twitter account, Mr Stewart appeared to poke fun at himself as he walked towards the camera and clumsily removed his tie.
Mr Stewart has organised a thank you rally for his supporters. He has refused to say who he will now be backing in the final two rounds of voting
People lined up to have their pictures taken with Mr Stewart, who continued to nurse a pint throughout the event
Mr Stewart addressed the crowd after it was revealed Boris Johnson (left) will face Jeremy Hunt (right) in the final run-off to be Conservative leader
The International Development Secretary had started the Tory leadership contest as a rank outsider but defied the odds to make it to the final five. He crashed out of the race yesterday
Boris allies plot to knock Gove out of race
Allies of Boris Johnson were today accused of trying to manipulate the Tory leadership contest to make sure the former foreign secretary does not have to face Michael Gove in the final two.
Mr Johnson’s supporters were accused of trying an ‘Oxford Union knifing’ amid claims dirty tricks were being used to oust Mr Gove.
It has been alleged that outriders for Mr Johnson are plotting to lend votes to Sajid Javid, currently in fourth place, to help him overtake Mr Gove and push the Environment Secretary into last.
Many of Mr Johnson’s closest acolytes have never forgiven Mr Gove for betraying him in the 2016 Tory leadership contest when he pulled his support at the last minute to launch his own failed bid to take over from David Cameron.
The former leadership challenger was mocked online after he took off his tie midway through a TV debate on Tuesday night.
He said in the video: ‘Thank you all very, very much indeed and it has been an incredible campaign.
‘I am really, really, really grateful that you came with me. Six o’clock… we are going to be back in the same venue in the Southbank Centre by the Spiegeltent.
‘Please come and join me – I would love to say thank you. I would love to keep the conversation going.
‘I have been so buoyed up and energised. I am not disappointed by this result because I think we are uncovering something extraordinary in this country and in British politics.
‘And Rory walks on.’
Mr Stewart’s elimination from the leadership race means there is no longer a candidate who is advocating proceeding with Mrs May’s Brexit deal in its current form.
Mr Stewart looked as though he was really trying to maintain his focus as he answered questions from people
Mr Stewart was pictured at the event knocking back a beer as he chatted with people at the event in London
What happens next in the Tory leadership race?
Tory MPs have now whittled the field of challengers down to just four candidates.
By the end of today they will have selected the final two.
Two ballots have been scheduled to take place tomorrow, with the result of the first expected at 1pm.
The candidate with the lowest number of votes will be eliminated and assuming that whoever finishes third decides to continue in the race, there will then follow another round of voting.
The result of what would be the fifth and final round will then be announced at 6pm.
At that point Tory MPs will have completed their part of the leadership contest and the remaining two candidates will then be put to Conservative Party members to choose from.
The final pair will have to face a series of 16 hustings events over the next month with Theresa May’s replacement expected to be announced in the week starting July 22.
It also means there is no longer a candidate ruling out a No Deal split from the EU.
Mr Stewart’s softer Brexit stance means it is unlikely his supporters will move across to support Mr Johnson who yesterday cemented his position as the prohibitive favourite after jumping from 126 votes to 143.
Sajid Javid, who finished fourth yesterday on 38, is thought to be too far behind in the race to have a chance of surviving the first ballot today.
That is likely to mean Mr Stewart’s supporters choosing between Mr Hunt and Mr Gove.
Both have similar approaches to Brexit in that they want to renegotiate Mrs May’s deal.
And while neither has ruled out No Deal, both have suggested they would delay Brexit beyond October 31 if a bit more time was needed to get an agreement finalised.
Two ballots are due to be held today as the remaining four candidates are whittled down to the final pair.
The result of what will be the fourth leadership ballot is expected at 1pm and the result of the fifth and final one is due at 6pm.
The final two candidates will then be put to the Tory grassroots for members to choose between with Mrs May’s successor scheduled to be announced in the week starting July 22.
Eurosceptic Tory MPs attack Philip Hammond over second referendum
Philip Hammond will this evening use a speech in the City of London to urge the next PM to consider holding a second referendum or election to break the Brexit impasse.
The Chancellor will vow to ‘fight and fight’ against No Deal and suggest that if MPs will not back Theresa May’s existing agreement then another ‘democratic mechanism’ will be necessary.
His comments, due to be delivered at Mansion House in front of finance and investment bosses, have sparked outrage among Tory Brexiteers who said the plan was ‘wrong on every level’.
Simon Clarke said calling a second referendum would ‘shatter faith in politics’ and would risk ushering in a ‘ruinous’ Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.