Our snap survey. Almost two-thirds of Party members want the Prime Minister out now. Over a third back her.

The Prime Minister can take comfort in the decisive break for in her favour from those presented with this forced choice.

Last month, 50 per cent of our panel said that the Prime Minister should resign as Party leader now, 30 per cent before the next election is due in 2022. Eighteen per cent backed her staying on.

In very rough terms, two thirds of that 30 per cent seem to have have swung behind Theresa May in this special survey, and a third to have done the opposite.

Obviously, it’s a shocking result when almost two-thirds of your own activists oppose you, but the Prime Minister can take some comfort in winning the support of over a third – and in the result of the forced choice that this survey presented.

None the less, if Downing Street is pumping claims of membership backing at Conservative MPs, it won’t be able to cite this survey as evidence.  Not long now until we have a proper result.

May should quit if she loses next week – our special survey with The Times

Over half of party members favour ‘No Deal’ as their first preference, and more than seven in ten believe defeat on Tuesday means it time to go.

Our panel may have been slightly surprised to find another survey landing in their inbox so soon after the previous one. But with the crucial vote on the Withdrawal Agreement looming and every day counting, we have conducted an extra one on behalf of The Times.

What we find is a further hardening of attitudes. The share of party members who want MPs to vote down the deal has risen very slightly to 71.5, from 68 last time, while those who do not has dropped from 30 per cent to 26 per cent.  This may factor in more grassroots anger about the machinery of CCHQ being used to try and drum up support for a policy the membership overwhelmingly opposes.

As for the Prime Minister personally, almost two members in three believe she should resign if (when?) the Government loses the meaningful vote on Tuesday. This is a fair bit more than the half who wanted her to step down immediately last time we asked, suggesting that for many members this is less a question of personal antipathy towards Theresa May and more a recognition that, Fixed-term Parliaments Act or not, a crushing defeat on the central policy of your government is a confidence measure.

Faced with a narrower field of May’s deal, a renegotiation attempt, no deal, another referendum, or cancelling Brexit, just over 50 per cent of respondents backed ‘No Deal’. This compares with just under a quarter favouring a renegotiation attempt and just 16 per cent the Prime Minister’s proposals.

For comparison, in our last survey ‘No Deal’ was the first-preference outcome of just over a third of party members.  However, it’s worth noting that the options presented in it were different from those agreed for this survey with the Times.

Over the past week, the Government has elected to take the case to the country in the hope of bringing public pressure to bear on MPs to back the deal. This might work, but the countervailing influence of local activists – the people who canvass and leaflet for their local MP or candidate on a regular basis – looks to be both more concentrated and much less equivocal.

Nine out of ten Conservative activists are against a second referendum. Our survey.

And No Deal is now activists’ most favoured option of all. Views are hardening as the endgame looms into sight.

It is far from certain that there is or will be a majority in the Commons for the abandonment of Brexit – the real aim of the second referendum campaigners.  But it is increasingly possible to imagine that there might be – and that this Government would then seek both to postpone the leaving date and to enact just such a referendum.  Theresa May is in breach of so many previous positions that for her simply to follow the impulses of an instinctively pro-Remain Commons would be a logical next step.  (Let us not be detained by the thought that if such a move didn’t spark a leadership challenge, nothing will ever do.)  What seems now to drive her is a primal fear of no deal.  Her declaration that no deal is better than a bad deal is being turned on its head.

At any rate, our latest survey results are a reminder that any such grandmother of all U-turns would have very serious consequences for the Conservative Party, outside Parliament as well as within in.

Nine out of ten party activists are opposed to a second referendum.  If Downing Street or CCHQ thinks that they would all meekly turn out to campaign for the Party in the wake of any push from the leadership for a second referendum, it might want to think again.  Certainly, many of them would turn out against Jeremy Corbyn in a general election.  But not all.  The immediate aftermath of a U-turn would be torn-up membership cards, cancelled subscriptions, less money and fewer boots on the ground.  And as both the 2015 and 2017 elections demonstrated – positively and negatively in turn – having campaigners in the right places counts.  Some of these disillusioned Tories might cast around for a new, credible UKIP.  Most would simply sit on their hands.

Note too that backing for a Norwegian-type EEA solution stands at about the same level, in the survey’s attempt to find out which Brexit options, if any, make activists’ hearts beat a bit faster.

Object if you will that Canada Plus Plus Plus is not on the table (the Prime Minister snatched it off at Chequers); or that Norway-to-Canada now doesn’t seem to be, either (maybe it never was; perhaps it might have got somewhere had May pushed it).  The point is to find out what our panel members want.  It is just possible to believe that they will warm to any Norway Plus option – if it is deliverable, outside Parliament as well as in, which it may not be – in the event of a final choice being between it and no deal.  But the survey provides no basis for believing so.  No Deal is now activists’ most favoured option of all, it finds, narrowly outscoring even a Canadian-type settlement.  Views are hardening as the endgame looms into sight.

 

The stark decline of Tory morale, in one chart

By combining all the Cabinet approval ratings for the year, we can see the true scope of members’ dissatisfaction.

Each month, ConservativeHome publishes our Cabinet League Table, based on the net approval/disapproval rating of each Cabinet Minister. Over time, those ratings tell the story of any given individual or department’s good or bad fortune.

But it’s also possible to use them to chart the overall degree to which the Conservative Party’s membership is pleased (or not) with the performance of the Government. By combining all the positive and negative ratings, I’ve generated a total score for the whole Cabinet for any given month (NB I have not included the Scottish and Welsh Conservative leaders). And by charting those full-Cabinet scores over the course of the year, we can see the stark story of declining Tory morale during 2018:

The survey is carried out at the end of each month, so can be read as a response to events that month. In particular, note the peak in March and April after the Russian attack on Salisbury and the Government’s firm response, then the dramatic collapse in ratings in July after Chequers, and finally the fall into outright negative territory in November after the Prime Minister presented her EU deal.

So far as I can tell, this is the first time the whole Cabinet has had an overall negative approval rating in the ConservativeHome survey. Collectively, the Cabinet has shed 1,190 net approval points since the April peak.

Or, to put it another way, the average approval rating of a member of the Cabinet has fallen from +36.2 in April to -4.8 in November. That is a pretty devastating verdict from grassroots members on the Government’s direction of travel.

 

ConHome’s Cabinet League Table. Everyone’s rating is down – and half of the top table is now in negative territory. Worst ever results.

Not for the faint-hearted. Contains intense violence, blood and gore, strong language and Philip Hammond.

 

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

The aftermath of Chequers saw the ratings of every single Cabinet member fall. It was its worst collective performance to date.  But it is a measure of how shocking our latest monthly results are that those members would be justified in tumbling to their knees – and begging for those post-Chequers results to be resurrected.

Then, six Cabinet Ministers were in negative territory: Brandon Lewis, Greg Clark, Julian Smith, Chris Grayling, Philip Hammond…and Theresa May.

Now, they are joined by Jeremy Wright, David Gauke, Claire Perry, David Lidington, Liam Fox, Amber Rudd – on her return to the top table – Caroline Nokes, Andrea Leadsom, Karen Bradley and, on his debut, by Steve Barclay. Unsweet sixteen.

Yes, that’s sixteen Ministers in the red, rather than six – outnumbering the 13 of its members who get into the black, some of them by tiny margins.  No fewer than seven ministers have positive ratings of lower than ten points: James Brokenshire, Gavin Williamson, David Mundell, Alan Cairns, Damian Hinds and, yes, the mighty Michael Gove, who topped the table as recently as June.

Geoffrey Cox led the pack with a 67.5 approval rating last month.  He is still top, but his rating is down by about a third.  Ditto, roughly, the table’s other top performers, if that label can be used in the same sentence as this dismal return.

And never mind the ratings – look at the falls.  Liam Fox was at 35, but is now in negative territory.  Andrea Leadsom’s score follows a similar pattern.  Penny Mordaunt hasn’t publicly defended the deal. Maybe that’s why she’s still in the black. Just about.

So is there any good news for anyone at all?  It depends what you mean.  Theresa May’s rating was actually lower after Chequers, but her scores are still horrible: – 48.1 then, – 42 this month (she was – 42.3 last month, since you ask).  However, Philip Hammond is at -46.7, which must be a new low, even for him.

Ruth Davidson would have cause to think, as she gives Baby Finn a cuddle: what’s the point of coming back?

Johnson. Distrusted by Conservative MPs. Clung to by Party members. He extends his lead in our Next Tory Leader survey.

It may be that the former Foreign Secretary has become a kind of comfort blanket in bewilderingly unpredictable times.

We wrote last month that progress in our Next Tory Leader table is invariably linked to media coverage.  This month’s result suggests that it ain’t necessarily so, at least in these unprecedented times at Westminster.

Dominic Raab is a Brexiteer; so are most Party members; his resignation was courageous; it was well-reported; he is plainly very able.  But his total is up by only four points.

Boris Johnson has had what, for him, counts as a quiet month.  Theresa May is clocking up over an appearance a week in the Commons at present – not counting PMQs.  Johnson has got to his feet to question her in two of her past four performances, fewer times than some of his fellow Brexiteering MPs, and has otherwise been largely restricted to his Daily Telegraph column, to which the paper has been devoting declining space.  But his rating is up by five points.

What is going on?  As ever, your reading may be as good as ours, but we tentatively advance the following line of thought.

First, David Davis remains in double figures, drifting down from 13 per cent to ten per cent.  He is taking a slice of the pro-Brexit vote, which blurs an already inchoate picture.  Second, resignations are coming so fast that they are perhaps of declining value – at least as far as this survey question is concerned.  Third, other answers show a clear anti-deal pattern, and Johnson is a familiar, known, anti-deal quality among Party members – a kind of comfort blanket, perhaps.

Finally, a paradox may be at work.

Never before in what has become an increasingly besieged premiership, turbulent even by the standard of some recent Prime Ministers, has Theresa May’s leadership been so fragile.  But it may be, in the aftermath of the failure of the push to depose her by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker, that our respondents now somehow assume that her position is stronger than the facts suggest that it is – and that she will simply go “on and on and on”, regardless of the toppling buildings and collapsing masonry around her.

As we say, that’s just one reading of this result: that the main Brexit drama is so compelling that the Conservative leadership sub-plot is a sideshow by comparison.  (And, for all Johnson’s improved rating, he has only a quarter of the total.)

Sajid Javid is down from 19 per cent to 12 per cent.  His boat is being rocked by the anti-deal feelings of Party members.  Other than Johnson, Raab, Davis and Javid himself, no-one else reaches double figures.

Our survey. The proportion of Party members who want May out now hits over half for the first time.

This is a lamentable background against which to campaign for the deal. If the survey is right, most members have faith in neither it nor her.

The totals wanting May to announce her resignation as Party leader “now” for each month since the Chequers Plan was unveiled this summer have been as follows:

  • July – 45 per cent.
  • August – 40 per cent.
  • September – 35 per cent.
  • October – 42 per cent.

That 45 per cent in July was “easily the worst finding for Downing Street since this survey question was first asked in the aftermath of last year’s general election.”

In short, our findings painted a picture of a plurality of members believing, from the summer of 2017 until the summer of this year, that Theresa May should neither lead the Party into the next election nor quit immediately.

Chequers broke up that pattern – and, if the survey is to be believed, the Prime Minister’s proposed deal has made her position among members even worse.

Never before in the best part of 18 months of asking this survey question have more than half of respondents said that she should go now.  The 80 per cent of respondents believing either that she should quit either now or before the next election is also a record.

So if there is a backlash of sympathy for May among Party members, the survey finds no evidence of it.

This is a lamentable background against which to campaign for the deal, and try to win the hearts and minds of activists.  If the survey is right, most members have faith in neither it nor her.

Our survey. Almost seven in ten Party members say that Conservative MPs should vote against May’s deal.

And roughly a third believe that they should back it. That’s a platform for the Prime Minister to build on – but she has little time left in which to change hearts and minds.

Last month, we looked back to our final members’ panel survey before the EU referendum, which showed 71 per cent of respondents either definitely for Leave or leaning to Leave, and 27 per cent either definitely for Remain or leaning to Remain.

We cite it again to remind readers how consistent the survey is.  It would be simplistic to claim that the Leave-backing 71 per cent of 2016 represents more or less exactly the same people as the 72 per cent who now oppose the Prime Minister’s draft Brexit deal – and that the same applies to the Remain-backing 27 per cent of 2016 and the deal-supporting 25 per cent now. None the less, there will undoubtedly be a very significant cross-over.

In short, our headline finding is that over seven out ten Party members believe that Conservative MPs should oppose the deal.  There can be little doubt that most Leavers among them are against it and most Remainers among them for it.

That said, Downing Street has a platform to build on. The other survey response in this section finds that almost a third of respondents believe that Tory MPs should back her in the lobbies.  The total doing so is 30 per cent.  So five per cent of our respondents don’t back the deal…but believe none the less that Conservative MPs should vote for it.  68 per cent think that they should vote against it.

So it is way to go for Theresa May.  With less than a fortnight left until the “meaningful vote”, she has little time to change hearts and minds. All in all, the survey finds no evidence for rising support for the deal from Party members.  And suggests that less than a third of them back her push to get Conservative MPs onside.

Our survey. Seven out of ten Party member respondents oppose the draft Brexit deal.

The finding suggests that she will have an uphill struggle to sell it to them, just as she did over Chequers.

Last month, 68 per cent of respondents to our survey wanted a Canada Plus Plus Plus-type Brexit, or else no deal at all – in other words, a quite hard to very hard Brexit.

And this month, we have 72 per cent against the Prime Minister’s draft deal and 23 per cent for it.

In other words, the bulk of our Party member panel respondents want a hardish or clean Brexit, and see Theresa May’s draft deal as not delivering it – a view that many will have taken without reading the best part of 600 pages of which it consists.

But there you go.  It’s salutory to look back to our final survey before the EU referendum, which showed 71 per cent of respondents either definitely for Leave or leaning to Leave, and 27 per cent either definitely for Remain or leaning to Remain.

What seems to have happened over time is that a very big slice of those Tory activists who voted Leave have solidified behind the clean or hardish Brexit that they probably always favoured in the first place.

It will be claimed that there is more support for the Prime Minister’s draft deal among Party members than this finding suggests, to which we make three responses.

First, the survey was opened on Thursday morning, and most responses arrived before May’s Commons statement and press conference of later that day, which might have made a difference at the margin.  And, certainly, views may change.

Second, this is the much same panel that swung behind May’s joint report agreement of last December by 73 per cent to 22 per cent.  It has not been reflexively hostile to everything she has done in the Brexit negotiations.

Finally, the survey results tend to end up in the same ball park as YouGov’s polls of party members, which are infrequent, but we regard as the gold standard.  After all, theirs are opinion polls and ours is a self-selecting survey.

That said, the survey has a strong record, and the message that this result sends to Downing Street is: polls suggest that voters haven’t swung behind your deal, and seven out of ten Party members oppose it.

Our survey. More than four in ten Conservative members want May to step down immediately.

Four fifths of our panel remain opposed to her leadership, but within that group there has been a significant hardening of attitudes.

This might not quite be the highest-ever level of support we’ve recorded from party members for the idea of Theresa May stepping aside immediately, but these figures still make grim reading for Number Ten.

Fully four in five now want the Prime Minister to step aside before the next general election. Worse, 42 per cent want her to stand down immediately, even at the cost of triggering a leadership contest at a less-than-ideal moment. For comparison, just last month that latter figure stood at just 35 per cent, against 45 per cent for “before the next election”.

What this represents then is not a net shift in the share of the membership which wants her to go – those who wish her to remain in post have held steady at somewhere shy of 20 per cent – but a substantial hardening of attitudes within the majority which views her leadership as, at best, a short-term proposition.

There will likely be several factors behind this, but perhaps the most plausible is that many members no longer believe that May is willing or able to deliver the clean, decisive Brexit they want, and which she appeared to promise earlier in her premiership. That promise has helped to delay the reckoning with the Party which in normal circumstances would have followed the self-inflicted disaster of the 2017 election campaign.

Without it, almost half the membership don’t think her leadership worth prolonging even until our formal departure from the EU in the spring. That Tory MPs, once famed for their ruthlessness, are themselves unwilling or unable to act in such circumstances is testament that these are strange times.