Hunt loses pole position in our Cabinet League Table as overall ratings languish

The Chief Whip has enjoyed something of a boost from last month’s victories on crucial votes, but the overall picture reflects a settled disenchantment.

Our last survey of 2018 revealed a Cabinet whose standing with the membership had scarcely recovered from the previous month, where we recorded our lowest-ever results since we started posing this question.

Has the New Year ushered in any re-appraisals or revivals of fortune? Alas, no.

  • Still 14 ministers with negative scores… And no change in the membership of that unhappy band, either: the Cabinet’s Remainers continue to predominate at the lower end of the table.
  • …but Smith almost breaks out. That the Chief Whip remains in the red doesn’t completely eclipse an impressive rebound, from -34.4 to just -3.8. Perhaps this is an outworking of the Government’s unexpectedly strong performance in those crucial Brexit votes – let’s see how this score fares after Valentine’s Day.
  • The rise of Leadsom continues. Last month we suggested that the Leader of the House’s big leap up the ranks might be a product of our readers’ loathing for John Bercow. If so, that well runs deep as she is up almost nine points and breaks into the top three.
  • Cox takes the top spot… But he does so whilst going backwards. Last time he was second-ranked with over 55 per cent, today he scoops the gold with less than 49.
  • Hunt loses his place on the podium. The Foreign Secretary records a serious fall, from over 60 to less than 42. We suspect this may be related to his becoming one of the most senior Cabinet members to float the idea of an Article 50 extension.
  • Javid falls into the mid-table. A loss of ten points takes the Home Secretary out of contention for the top three, reducing him to eighth place.
  • Are the non-Cabinet posts a barometer? Interestingly, both Paul Davies and Ruth Davidson have suffered some decline in their scores, despite neither featuring in any major stories and indeed the latter being on maternity leave.

Our survey. More than eight in ten Conservative members oppose extending Article 50.

The level of opposition is a shade higher than it was a fortnight ago.

As speculation abounds that the Government may be considering a delay to Article 50, we took the opportunity of our latest monthly survey of Conservative Party members to ask their view on the idea.

The result was pretty much overwhelming: 82.7 per cent of the 1,257 respondents oppose the idea, while 14 per cent support it.

Notably, this is a higher level of opposition than we found in our snap survey a couple of weeks ago, when 78.7 per cent answered No.

At minimum, grassroots opinion is not softening, and it might even be hardening as impatience sets in. If the Government does intend to try to delay proceedings, then it has a major explaining job ahead of it.

Our survey. Next Tory leader. Stasis as Johnson carries on leading amidst little expectation of change.

Although the Prime Minister’s position is fragile, there is no sense of a contest in the offing any time soon.

Theresa May cannot formally be challenged as Conservative leader until this coming December – a year after the unsuccessful bid to topple her by the European Research Group and others.  There are doubtless other ways of toppling a Tory leader, and her position remains extraordinarily vulnerable.  But there is no current expectation of moves against her before March 29 – or afterwards in the event of extension.

It may be for this reason that there is little movement in our Next Tory Leader survey this month.  Boris Johnson leads on 26 per cent, 14 points more than the next contender, Dominic Raab.  Last month the latter was on the same total and Johnson’s rating was a point higher.  Michael Gove is up to third from three per cent to nine per cent.  Perhaps his swashbuckling winding-up speech in the recent no confidence vote provides the explanation.

Otherwise the main point to note is the gradual decline of Sajid Javid.  In our October survey he was second, and a point off Boris Johnson, on 19 per cent.  His scores since have been 12 per cent, 13 per cent and this month seven per cent.  There is no obvious explanation for the drop.  Against a background of very little media leadership speculation indeed, the pattern of the table suggests that many respondents have only half an eye on the prospect of change, if that.

Our survey. A majority of Party members back May’s deal – if changes can be made to the backstop.

The proportion of respondents opposing it at any cost has fallen from well over two in five to over one in three.

At the end of last year, there was no sign at all that Party members were willing to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal, according to our survey.  Seventy-one per cent of respondents opposed it and 26 per cent supported it.

But last month, the suggestion that the Northern Ireland backstop might be removed from the deal won a majority for it.  Thirteen per cent of those surveyed said that they would back the deal outright, and 40 per cent that they would do so were the backstop to be removed from it.  So 53 per cent lined up behind one of those two options.  Forty-five per cent said that the deal would not be acceptable to them even were the backstop to be removed.

Since then, the Prime Minister has thrown her weight behind the so-called Brady amendment – whipping the Parliamentary Party to support Sir Graham’s motion to remove the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement.  In the wake of last Tuesday’s votes, she told the Commons that she would now “take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement”.

This seems to have done her a power of good with Party members.  According to this month’s survey, the proportion who oppose her deal under any circumstances is down to 36 per cent.  These will be some Second Referendum backers but mostly No Deal supporters.  (The best part of 90 per cent of Party members are opposed to the former, according to last month’s survey.)

Seventeen per cent of Party members back the deal as it stands.  Forty-four per cent would support it were the backstop to be removed from the Withdrawal Agreement.  Forty-one per cent would do so were the UK to have the unilateral right to leave the backstop.  Thirty-three per cent would so were the backstop to have a time limit that would enable the UK to quit it before the next election.

Add those last three percentages to the 17 per cent who support the deal in any event, and one has 61 per cent, 58 per cent and 50 per cent.  Twelve per cent would back the deal were the UK able to leave the backstop after the next election.  Add the 17 per cent and one has a total of 29 per cent.  All in all, the Brady amendment, and perhaps the Malthouse Compromise, have given Tory unity a shot in the arm among Party members as well as Conservative MPs.

Of course, “legally binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement” don’t necessarily imply changes to the text of the backstop itself.  And the EU may not be up for any sort of change to the deal (if it is, the most likely route is some kind of codicil or annexe).

But these are much better results for May than any that the survey has found recently, and is a gift horse that some in Downing Street and CCHQ won’t want to look in the mouth.

Eight in ten party members oppose extending Article 50, according to our snap survey

The message from our Party members’ panel is clear: activists want no change to exit day – and delaying it would risk a backlash.

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given the relative lack of concern about a no-deal Brexit evinced by our panellists.

However, others may also take the view that the crucial decision point has not yet arrived and that the Government could yet get the Withdrawal Agreement (and the necessary legislation) through Parliament in time.

Either way, speculation is building that May may fold on extension if the Commons pushes for it.

This finding is a reminder that doing so would come with a cost as far as Party members are concerned, especially since it would be claimed, perhaps correctly, that extension was paving the way to revocation.

 

Our survey. A second referendum is as unpopular as ever amongst grassroots Conservatives.

Nine in ten respondents to our survey are opposed – just as they were in December.

These results are essentially unchanged since we last ran the question back in December.  There’s no room for manoeuvre on the matter for Theresa May, assuming she might want any, at least as far as Party members are concerned.

As matters stand, almost half of Party members line up behind No Deal, our snap survey finds

The closer the prospect of it gets, the more some people warm to it – as the BBC’s Question Time suggested this week.

On the BBC’s Question Time edition this week, the audience cheered for No Deal.  The closer the prospect of it gets, the more some people warm to it.

This was also our explanation when we last asked a broadly comparable question to this one, and found that No Deal was the most popular option with 44 per cent support.

That’s now up slightly to 48 per cent, while backing for a Canada option is down marginally from 27 per cent to 24 per cent.  In short, there’s not much change since last year in relation to any of the options.

Our survey. May’s Deal. A majority of Party members would support it were the UK able unilaterally to leave the backstop

But the majority for such a solution is slender. And well over two in five respondents reject the deal entirely.

  • When we last asked a roughly comparable question, Theresa May’s Brexit deal had the support of 26 per cent of our panel members.  That’s now down to 13 per cent.  Doubtless part if not most of the reason is its defeat by a record margin in the Commons this week.  The Prime Minister may believe it can be revived.  This finding suggests Party members believe that it can’t.
  • Well over two in five respondents say that the deal is not acceptable – rejecting it entirely.  The total is not that far off half.
  • None the less, two in five replies also say that the deal would be acceptable were the UK to have the right to leave the backstop unilaterally.  Add the 40 per cent concerned to that 13 per cent, and May wins a majority for such an amended deal among our members’ panel.  But one almost as tight as the referendum result.

Tim Bale: Johnson and Rees-Mogg are still in with a shout in the race to succeed May

New polling also reveals that neither is so far ahead as to be unstoppable, however.

Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron, and co-runs the ESRC Party Members Project (PMP), which aims to study party membership in the six largest British parties.

In order to stay in office, the Prime Minister had to promise her party that she would be gone before the next election.  But there’s little agreement among Conservative members – and even less agreement among Conservative voters – as to who should replace her.

The ESRC-funded Party Members Project, run out of Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University, surveyed 1215 Conservative Party members between 17th and 22nd December, and a total of 1675 voters between 18-19 December, including 473 individuals who were intending to vote Conservative. The fieldwork was conducted by YouGov.

Respondents were asked the following question: Theresa May has said she will stand down as Conservative Party leader before the next scheduled general election in 2022.  Who would you most like to see replace her as Conservative Leader?  Neither group was presented with a pre-determined list of candidates but was instead asked to write in a name, and they were of course free to say that they didn’t know or weren’t sure, et cetera.

The table below gives the results, leaving out all those names that received only a handful or so of mentions – a group of people which included some relatively high-profile figures who are sometimes mentioned as potential candidates: Esther McVey is one example, since her name was suggested by only four Tory members (out of the 1162 who answered the leadership question) and no Tory voters. The table also contains a column allowing comparison with the results published by ConservativeHome on 31 December 2018, although their survey, unlike ours, gives respondents a list of names to choose from.

Tory Voters

(per cent)

Tory Members

(per cent)

ConHome

(per cent)

Boris Johnson 15 20 27
Jacob Rees-Mogg 7 15 4
Don’t Know 38 12 N/A
David Davis 4 8 7
Sajid Javid 2 8 13
Dominic Raab 3 7 12
Jeremy Hunt 2 6 9
Amber Rudd 4 5 5
Michael Gove 2 4 3
Penny Mordaunt 0 1 4

 

The results of the survey provide an insight into why Theresa May survived the confidence vote she was subjected to by some of her MPs just before Christmas. Right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to who might replace her – and that very uncertainty is bound to have worked to the PM’s advantage.

Clearly, Johnson and Rees-Mogg, both of them Brexiteers with high name-recognition, currently have the edge over other potential candidates to succeed May. Indeed, all the other candidates are beaten by ‘Don’t know’, even among Tory members. That said, when it comes to Tory voters, the same is true even of Johnson and Rees-Mogg.

Importantly, neither Johnson nor Rees-Mogg is so far ahead of the rest of the field as to be impossible to catch.  In any case, both are likely to find it hard to make it through the parliamentary round of voting that, according to the party’s rules, narrows the field to two candidates before grassroots members are given the final say.

Also striking is the dominance of men over women: at the moment it looks unlikely that the Conservatives will replace their second female leader with a third. Amber Rudd is almost certainly too much of a Remainer for a membership dominated not just by Brexiteers but by hard Brexiteers. Meanwhile Penny Mordaunt (mentioned by just 14 out of 1162 Tory members and by no Tory voters) clearly still has an awful lot to do.

The same looks to be true, however, of the three or four men likely to throw their hats into the ring – Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab, and Jeremy Hunt, whose recent trip to Singapore has been widely interpreted as part of his ongoing leadership bid. And Michael Gove is not so far behind as to make a second crack at the top job a complete fool’s errand, in spite of the mess he made of the last leadership contest.

Perhaps the bookies are right in marking Gove at 10/1. This isn’t far off the 9/1 you’d get if you put your money on Hunt and the 8/1 you’d get on Raab, but still some way off the 6/1 offered for Johnson and, interestingly, Javid – who, like Hunt, many claim has been very much ‘on manoeuvres’ recently.

Testing our survey against the latest polling of Party members. New evidence on Next Tory Leader.

Johnson has topped an ESCR poll, as he did our last survey. Its findings are even better for Brexiteers than ours.

Today’s Observer contains a brief summary of more polling of Conservative Party members for the ESCR Party Members Project.  It is squeezed into a larger story on Labour and Brexit, and the paper’s account doesn’t come with a table and full details.  None the less, it provides another opportunity to test Conservative Home’s monthly survey against a properly weighted opinion poll.  Mark Wallace looked at other recent evidence from the Project late last week.

Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis are “top of the party’s grassroots list” as preferred candidates to replace Theresa May, the Observer reports.  It says that Johnson “topped the poll” with 20 per cent, that Rees-Mogg “trailed in second on 15 per cent” and that  Davis “scored 8 per cent”. We read separately that Sajid Javid also scored per 8 cent in the poll, so Dominic Raab, with 7 per cent, was therefore fifth.

So discounting the don’t knows, the ESCR Project’s top five are –

  • Johnson – 20 per cent.
  • Rees-Mogg – 15 per cent.
  • Davis – 8 per cent.
  • Javid – 8 per cent.
  • Raab – 7 per cent.

And the top five candidates in our last Next Tory Leader survey were –

  • Johnson – 27 per cent.
  • Javid – 13 per cent.
  • Raab – 12 per cent.
  • Jeremy Hunt – 9 per cent.
  • Davis – 7 per cent.

It appears that ESCR put nine names to their Party member respondents: Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Davis, Javid, Raab, Jeremy Hunt (6 per cent in its poll), Amber Rudd (5 per cent in its poll, 5 per cent in our last survey), Michael Gove (4 per cent and 3 per cent respectively) and Penny Mordaunt (one per cent and 4 per cent respectively).  We currently offer no fewer than 19 names, all of whom have been spoken of as potential leadership candidates.

Four of the ESCR’s top five – Johnson, Davis, Javid and Raab – overlap with our top five.  Hunt was in our top five, but not in the ESCR’s (which had him sixth on 6 per cent).  Jacob-Rees Mogg is in the ESCR’s top five; he wasn’t in ours (he was seventh with 4 per cent).  It is sometimes claimed that the ConHome panel is more Eurosceptic than Party membership as a whole.  That may be correct – but as matters stand this ESCR result actually finds the reverse, though it is of course only a single piece of evidence.

The ESCR Project is run out of Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University.  Its last blog on its latest polling of Party members says that it surveyed 1215 Conservative Party members.  YouGov conducted the polling between December 17 and December 22.