Chris Everett argues Michael Gove is best placed to reunite the two warring wings of the Conservative Party.

Every comment writer with a stake in the Tory leadership race has been describing their favoured choice as the ‘unity candidate’. Bringing together the party after a traumatic and divisive referendum is the only positive trait that actually unites the Conservative membership at the moment; any candidate labelled ‘unifier’ is certain to be a favourite.

While lengthy think pieces may throw this phrase onto select candidates, I am yet to read one that plants solid evidence behind its claims. To discover which candidate among the remaining three can truly bear the ‘unity’ seal, we must first look at the data behind each candidates’ supporters.

Cross referencing the Guido Fawkes website’s excellent In/Out EU referendum MP tracker with their also excellent leadership data gives us a rough breakdown of support for each candidate from both pro-Remain and pro-Leave MPs. Using this measure is important, as Brexit is the definitive issue splitting the Tory party at the moment. As a measurement, it offers a refreshingly objective appraisal against the backdrop of difficult to sample membership polls, and overly subjective policy analyses.

So how do the candidates fare by this ‘unity’ test? Unsurprisingly, the only remaining Remainer, Theresa May, has the strongest support from pro-EU MPs, with at least 91 out of her current stock of 115 having officially declared and, in many cases, campaigned for In. Leadsom, on the other hand, reverses this figure with Brexiteers, boasting 38 out of 42 MPs as having backed Leave. To put those figures in context, 79 per cent of May’s public support is from MPs who campaigned against Brexit, while 90 per cent of Leadsom’s were arguing for it. These figures are echoed by dropouts Crabb (82 per cent Remainers) and Fox (88 per cent Leavers).

Unlike Leadsom and May, Brexit campaigner Michael Gove’s support is remarkably balanced. Despite the fact he fronted the official Leave campaign, 36 per cent of Gove’s support comes from pro-Remain MPs, with (relatively) Europhile supporters such as Nicky Morgan and Ed Vaizey showing the sincerity of his appeal to non-Brexiters. The split between Remainers and Leavers among Gove’s supporters mirrors the split in the Conservative party membership, in which two thirds are estimated to have supported Brexit, almost exactly.

This measure is far from perfect, but in the current misinformation malaise it represents a decent weathervane within the party. Carrying the Tories’ bad blood from the referendum campaign through to Number 10 would lay the ground work for a weak and ineffective premiership, regardless of the candidate’s experience. Michael Gove has shown himself as being the most willing to build party consensus between Remainers and the 42 per cent of MPs who backed Brexit in the referendum. His support reflects a mature candidate capable of building coalitions between the two warring wings of the Tory party, a unifier in words, deeds, and crucially results.

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