Sajid Javid has warned that the Tory leadership race risks looking like a debate at the Oxford Union if the final candidates are all from similar backgrounds.
Ahead of the second round of voting, the Home Secretary – who is among six MPs vying to replace Theresa May – described himself as “less Homer’s Iliad and more Homer Simpson”.
Mr Javid, the state-school educated son of a Pakistani bus driver, has a background which is in stark contrast to rivals including Old Etonians Boris Johnson and Rory Stewart.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we end up in a situation where the final two, three, four even, are people from similar backgrounds with similar life experiences, it will look like a debate at the Oxford Union and I just don’t think that’s healthy for the Tory Party.”
On Tuesday afternoon Conservative MPs will vote in the second bout of the contest to select Britain’s next prime minister, ahead of a live TV debate that will feature the front-runner and former foreign secretary, Mr Johnson.
Candidates need to gain at least 33 votes from MPs to remain in the race to reach the final run-off, which will see some 160,000 Tory members select the next prime minister.
Mr Johnson gained the support of former leadership contender Andrea Leadsom on Tuesday morning, who said he was the “best placed to get us out of the EU at the end of October” and an “election winner”.
The former Commons leader told LBC: “I’m going to be backing Boris Johnson for the next prime minister. Essentially, there are two key reasons.
“One is I think he is the best placed to get us out of the EU at the end of October, so his view and mine is very closely aligned there, and secondly, I do believe he is an election winner.”
Mr Johnson, who topped the initial poll with 114 votes, refused to take part in hustings with journalists on Monday, but was set to join rivals for a candidates’ debate on the BBC on Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove – who came third in the first ballot with 37 votes – said the final two candidates should “believe in Brexit” and be able to deliver it and unite the Tory party.
“It would be a mistake to put forward two candidates to the final round who will polarise our party,” he wrote in The Times.
On Monday evening, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart’s campaign was boosted by the backing of de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington.
Mr Stewart only secured 19 votes in the first round of voting, but is trying to position himself as the “change” candidate who can defeat Mr Johnson in the July run-off.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he has “no problem” being the “stop Boris” candidate, and that he would “love” to go against Mr Johnson in the final two.
“I have no problem with that, and I would love to go against him in the final two in order to give members the chance to choose whether they want Boris’s Brexit or mine.”