Hunt for two Tory MPs branded 'numpties' for spoiling ballot papers in prime minister vote
The hunt is on for the two Tory MPs branded "numpties" for spoiling their ballot papers in the vote to elect the next prime minister.
For the first time in the contest to find a new Tory leader, members of the exclusive "selectorate" given the chance of deciding who should be in the run-off to become Theresa May's successor returned ineligible ballot papers.
With just two votes out of 313 separating second placed Michael Gove and challenger Jeremy Hunt in the fourth ballot, the spoiled papers could have had an impact on which opponent of front-runner Boris Johnson was seen to have the most momentum.
Former leadership contender Rory Stewart denied being one of the two MPs who decided that none of the candidates were worth voting for.
"I have now voted twice for colleagues in the race," he said after the fifth ballot. "I didn't abstain."
Johnson supporter Mark Francois said it was up in the air which Cabinet minister would fight the ex-foreign secretary in the run-off to be decided by party members, stating: "The other thing that every MP wants to know is who were the two numpties who spoilt their ballot papers?
"I can't believe anybody did that by accident.
"I know people have criticisms about the limitations of members of Parliament, but most of them are capable of putting an X in a small box.
"There was a gasp when it was read out that there were two spoilt ballot papers.
"So, we are now all trying to work out who that was.
"We might have a sweepstake among the parliamentary party about who it was who spoilt the ballot papers.
"And, hopefully some day, years from now when somebody writes their memoirs they will go 'oh, by the way, it was me'."