CHRISTCHURCH MP Sir Chris Chope is supporting the little-backed Esther McVey for the Conservative leadership – but refused to say if he would actually vote for her.
Pro-Brexit Sir Chris revealed his preference to the A&T despite admitting that local Tories he had consulted overwhelmingly fancied former frontrunner Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister.
Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson has also won the support of the New Forest’s Tory MPs, Sir Desmond Swayne and Julian Lewis, who confirmed they would be voting for him.
Sir Chris said: “I have canvassed opinion in my association and there is no doubt about it that among my membership the frontrunner is Boris Johnson by a long way.
“I have listened to the candidates and their agendas at the hustings and, on the basis of what I have heard so far, the person who has performed best – but is not so well known – is Esther McVey.
“She has a clear line on wanting to leave on 31st October and how to achieve it. She also does a lot to bridge the north-south divide and she’s completely different. That’s one of the difficulties – that she’s not so well known.”
Pro-Brexit Mrs McVey was first elected to the House of Commons in 2010 and is MP for Tatton, in Cheshire.
Now a backbencher, she was work and pensions secretary from January to November last year before she resigned over Theresa May’s withdrawal deal. She has said she would be ready to suspend parliament to push through no-deal Brexit.
The biggest headlines of her leadership campaign so far include an on-air spat on ITV’s Good Morning Britain with former TV colleague and presenter Lorraine Kelly.
Despite local Tory members’ preference for Mr Johnson, Sir Chris said Mrs McVey “went down very well” with activists when she came to visit Christchurch in February.
However, he refused to confirm he would vote for her, saying: “I am not going to say any more than what I have said already. I can understand why my constituency is in favour of Boris Johnson but this is a contest over several rounds.
“Obviously Esther’s the underdog – and that’s no bad thing.”
Sir Chris’s latest divergence from his local party members follows public anger at a series of controversial votes in which he has hindered popular legislation – most recently including a new law to better protect girls at risk of female genital mutilation.
The first round of voting on the Tory party leadership is due to be held today (Thursday) with the next scheduled for Tuesday.