The campaign to oppose the 0.7 per cent aid cut will gain very little support from Party members

10 Jan

Here is a ConservativeHome members’ panel result that is unsurprising (so much so as perhaps to explain why it missed out on publication last month), but which it is nonetheless important to record.

The Government is in no place simply to suspend the target.  It was enshrined in law during the Coalition years, and Ministers seem to accept that, while the legislation allows the target to be missed unintentionally (and for the Government then to explain what it will do in future to hit it), it doesn’t allow it to be missed intentionally.

That will mean a Bill, to be debated before Covid-19 has fully receded, and with an unknown number of Tory MPs opposed.  Harriet Baldwin gave a preview of the arguments they will deploy on this site recently.

We will be surprised if the number of dissenters hits over 40, at which point the Government risks losing part or all of the Bill, though sources within their camp are bullish.  What’s clear if our survey is correct is that they will have very little support indeed from Tory members.

Our survey: advent of the new strain and the vaccine sees a swing towards maintaining lockdown

29 Dec

Last month, Conservative members still reported significant unease about the Government’s approach to combating Covid-19.

Whilst there was a swing away from support for the ‘Swedish model’ as an alternative (in favour of a more effective test-and-trace system), there was still a majority for easing restrictions “faster and more widely”.

Opinion this month is much more evenly split. Support for a quicker exit from lockdown has fallen from 56 per cent to 37 per cent, whilst that for the opposing view – “more slowly and less widely” – rose from 11 per cent to 24 per cent. There was also a small increase in those who thought that Ministers have got it just right, from 31 per cent to 35 per cent.

It’s a similar story on the broader question of coronavirus strategy. Support for maintaining the restrictions “as at present” has risen from 18 per cent to 34 per cent, despite those measures getting significantly harsher with the advent of ‘Tier 4’. It therefore edges ahead of test-and-trace, the former favourite, which slips from 42 per cent to 33 per cent.

And the ‘voluntary social distancing’ option, which led as recently as October, falls from 38 per cent to just 29 per cent.

There are two obvious possible explanations for this shift in approach. The first is that members are much more worried about the new, more virulent strain of Covid-19 than they were about the original one. The second is that with the vaccination programme already underway, the case for knuckling down seems much stronger than it did when the prospect was potentially years of restrictions.

Johnson’s rating for dealing with Covid rises in our latest survey

28 Dec

Last month, those totals were 37 per cent, 52 per cent and 11 per cent respectively.  Now, only marginally more panel members think that the Prime Minister is dealing with Covid badly than well.

Furthermore, there has been a shift in their view over time against lockdowns and restrictions.  So what is going on?

You will find out more later this week when we publish more results from the survey – but in the meantime here is our take, for better or for worse.

We wrote recently that the arrival of vaccines, the emergence of a more contagious Coronavirus variant, and Sweden’s struggle with a “second wave” will have persuaded some Conservative MPs that there is now no alternative to the Government’s strategy.

Our guess is that a section of the panel is now thinking in that kind of way.

There doesn’t seem to be any other convincing explanation in a month during which restrictions have generally tightened.  That our survey went out in the wake of the UK and the EU securing a Brexit trade deal may also have had some marginal impact.

The figures for the Government as a whole are 48 per cent, 45 per cent and seven per cent.  80 per cent say that they support the measures that Rishi Sunak is taking.

That’s the first time that Ministers’ collective rating has been in the black since August, and that Johnson’s own is slightly lower will reflect greater doubts about his own focus.

Truss tops our Cabinet League Table for the first time

4 Dec
  • Whatever happens to Liz Truss at the next reshuffle, whenever it happens, she will go into it as one of the small number of Cabinet members past and present who have topped our Members’ Panel League Table.  The International Trade post sends its occupant out to bat for Britain and away from domestic political turmoil.  The freedom-orientated and ever-combative Truss is making the most it.
  • The key to her achieving pole position is not so much her tiny ratings rate (from 73 per cent to 75 per cent, but Rishi Sunak’s own small fall (from 81 to 75 per cent).  There may be some nervousness at the margins from respondents about future tax rises.
  • Ben Wallace is up from ninth on 40 per cent to third on 66 per cent.  That undoubtedly reflects his success in winning a multi-year defence settlement at a time when other departments have only a single-year one – with enough money to at least get by.  And the former soldier seems a better fit in his department than some other Cabinet ministers.
  • Michael Gove is down from fourth on 54 points to fifteenth on 30 points. That will be a consequence of his support for tough anti-Covid restrictions.
  • The Priti Patel bullying claims – our reading of Sir Alex Allen’s report into them is that it concluded she should resign because she may have broken the code unintentionally – have made next to no difference to her rating, which has dropped by a marginal three points.
  • And Boris Johnson?  He is down by eight points and hovers just below the relegation zone.  Matt Hancock evaded it this month by a sliver.

Our survey. Members strongly back faster liberalisation of Covid-19 restrictions.

1 Dec

Although for now the Government has managed to retain control over pandemic policy – thanks in part to the Opposition – our survey shows that the unease of Tory MPs over the length and rigour of lockdown and other restrictions is shared by the grassroots.

More than half of all respondents to our latest survey agreed that: ‘The Government should be lifting lockdowns and restrictions faster and more widely’, versus less than a third who agreed that: ‘The Government’s lifting of lockdowns and restrictions is proceeding in the right speed and way’. Only 11 per cent took the view that Ministers are moving too quickly to open the country back up.

We also asked our regular question about which broader strategy the Prime Minister should adopt to combat Covid-19. This month 18 per cent backed maintaining lockdowns and other current restrictions, 42 per cent favoured using test-and-trace to minimise the need for such controls, and 39 per cent supported a Sweden-style approach based on voluntary social distancing. This shows some decline in support for the Swedish option since the autumn.

Our survey. More than half of members back the Government over extending free school meals

3 Nov

Even if the decision to impose a new national lockdown was the biggest ‘dead cat’ in history, it’s unlikely that the rowover free school meals is going to go away anytime soon.

The Government has to date shown a surprising degree of stubbornness in resisting calls to extend the programme through the Christmas holidays – and it appears they have the support of the grassroots.

Why might this be? Some will doubtless reach for comforting caricatures of Victorian mill-owners, but as Jacob Rees-Mogg said in our latest Moggcast there is no suggestion on the Conservative benches that vulnerable young people shouldn’t get support. Instead, the row is over what the best way to help them is. This is borne out by the arguments advanced by Tory MPs in the recent debate, which we looked at previously.

It therefore seems reasonable to assume that members are taking the Prime Minister at his word that appropriate help will be made available in time, but recognise the practical and philosophical case against trying to get schools to feed children directly outside term time.

Our Cabinet League Table: Sunak is still top, and Johnson is back in positive territory – just

2 Nov
  • Rishi Sunak’s favourability rating is down from 81.5 per cent to 81.1 per cent – in other words, by so infinitesimal a margin as to make no difference.  In other polls, his soaring rating would be driven by the subsidies that the Treasury is paying out.  In this one, his resistance to lockdowns will be a significant contributor to his popularity.
  • Boris Johnson was marginally in negative territory last month (-10 per cent) and marginally in positive terroritory this month (13 per cent).  We can think of no reason why, given the panel’s decision to mark him down, the late September finding should have been in the red and the October one in the black (or vice-versa had it been case).
  • Matt Hancock slides a bit further into the minus ratings, Gavin Williamson a bit back towards the plus ones.  Liz Truss is up a little and Priti Patel by more, having had a sticky summer over the channel crossings.  All in all, it’s much of a muchness – with Douglas Ross down by about 25 points, now that his Party Conference coverage has faded.
  • These ratings were taken at the end of last week, before the Prime Minister’s emergency press conference on Saturday.  We suspect that it would have lowered his rating and that of the Cabinet; you may disagree; perhaps we will hold a snap survey later this week to find out…

Our survey: more than half of Tory members want Trump to win next week

31 Oct

Donald Trump is, to say the very least, a break from convention. Just as he has attempted to remake America’s position overseas – and indeed done so by dint merely of being elected – he is also a very different sort of Republican to those that typified the post-Reagan era.

Yet for all that, our latest survey shows that more than 50 per cent of grassroots Conservatives are hoping for him to come out on top and win a second term as President. Fewer than one in four are holding out for Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger.

There are several possible explanations for this. One is the perception that a Trump White House will be better for the United Kingdom during its first few years outside the European Union. But it could simply be that the Conservatives and Republicans are sister parties and activists, for all Biden’s personal moderation, simply remain deeply wary of the Left and the influence that the wider Democratic Party could wield through him.

Our survey. Just over half of members anticipate a Conservative majority after the next election.

10 Oct

Over the past few months, we have tracked the waning confidence of party members in the Cabinet’s performance (bar a handful of exceptions) in our monthly League Table.

Another question we always ask is what our respondents think will be the outcome of the next general election – and here too, grassroots optimism has waned over the summer.

More than half (54.5 per cent) still expect a Conservative majority. This is not unreasonable, given that the Government is still holding up pretty well in the polls and Labour have a big electoral mountain to climb, especially if Sir Keir Starmer can’t make some progress in Scotland.

But this is down from almost three quarters when we last checked in on this question in August. The two options in second and third place are respectively a Labour majority (13.5 per cent) and a Labour-led coalition (11 per cent).

For the present, this is a somewhat academic question. Unless the Government gets around to repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (and references to 2024 on the latest merchandise suggests this might not be at the forefront of CCHQ’s mind), the next election is years off. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that a quite extraordinary amount of politics can happen in that time.

But it does illustrate once again that the mounting apprehension which has been so often reported on amongst Tory MPs is shared by their activists. Will the Prime Minister’s conference performance have lifted their spirits?

Our Cabinet League Table. The Prime Minister falls into negative territory.

3 Oct
  • It’s not unprecedented for a Conservative Prime Minister to fall into negative territory in our monthly Cabinet League Table.  In April last year, Theresa May set a new record of scoring the lowest rating it has ever recorded – at -74. Compared to that, Boris Johnson’s -10.3 this month looks tame.
  • Nonetheless, it’s a rotten springboard from which to vault into Party Conference as it begins today.  As we wrote yesterday, it reflects weariness with curbs, frustration with what seem to be fluctuating and arbitrary rules, a sense that Ministers at the top of Government are divided – and a certain frustration with the Prime Minister himself.
  • Liz Truss up to second in the table, from 62 per cent to 70 per cent.  Dominic Raab and Michael Gove’s scores are both down but, with Steve Barclay and Truss, they are the only Cabinet Ministers to clear 50 per cent.  As recently as last December, the entire Cabinet was in the black, with 18 of its members above that 50 per cent rating.
  • Matt Hancock joins Gavin Williamson, Robert Jenrick and Johnson in negative territory. Amanda Milling clambers out of it (just about).  On a happier note, Douglas Ross more than doubles his rating from 26 per cent to 61 per cent: his aggression and energy in Scotland are getting noticed.
  • And finally: the Prime Minister has been low, though not nearly by this much, in the table before – shortly before he resigned as Foreign Secretary.  He bounced back then, and could do so again.  Once again, we make the point that this is much the same panel as gave him a 93 per cent rating after the last election.