Our survey. Less than half of our panel now expect a Conservative-led Government at the next election.

14 Jun



Previously, both our Editor and Deputy Editor have analysed how the views of our panel on the likely outcome of the next general election have shifted in the last eighteen months.

Back in April, the latter highlighted how the combined total expecting a form of Conservative victory had fallen from 78 percent in November – pre-Partygate, cost-of-living crisis, and Chancellor’s tax travails – to 61 percent.

Today, we can see that confidence has fallen to only 50 percent of our readers. Or, more accurately, 49.5 percent – hence the headline.

Back in April, of that 61 percent total, 45 percent expected a majority, 12 percent a minority government, and 3.47 a Conservative-led coalition. Today, those figures are 35.44 percent, 9.41 percent, and 4.65 percent, respectively.

The drop in expectations for a majority likely has several causes. Partygate, the poor local election results, and the continuing Tory lag in the polls provide a poor platform for a summer likely to be dominated by stories of stagflation and strikes. The Ukraine bounce of March has also worn off.

Over half of our survey called for the Prime Minister to go last Monday. Our panel also placed him at the bottom of our Cabinet league table. Now that only just over a third of our respondents expect a majority at the next election suggests many members believe the Prime Minister is a drag on the party’s prospects.

Here are the full figures for all the surveys since our December post:

May: 50 (49.5) percent

April: 61 percent

March: 72 per cent

February: 72 percent

January: 66 percent

December: 67 percent

I suggested recently that the Prime Minister’s premiership has gone the same way as Edward Heath’s: u-turns, strikes, oil crises, and inflation. Our panel’s pessimism, coupled with Number 10’s repeated threats of a sudden election, suggests Johnson might also mirror Heath in his performance at the ballot box. Who governs Britain indeed. 

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Johnson has the power to call a snap election, but it would be political madness

1 Jun

From whence springs the apparent fear on the part of rebellious Conservative MPs that Boris Johnson might call a snap election in the event that he survives a vote of no confidence?

Bloomberg reports that the rebels think he might seek a “fresh mandate from voters” if the expected challenge fails to oust him as leader.

In fairness to them, some members of the Boris court have talked up this possibility in the past. Jacob Rees-Mogg, a constitutionalist who definitely knows better, suggested earlier this year that there would need to be a general election were the Prime Minister to be deposed.

And sources have told me that some in the current Downing Street team have talked about how a smaller majority might be easier to manage than a large one – which has a certain logic if one has no great ambitions to do anything ambitious with it.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that the Prime Minister could call an election if he wanted to. One of this Government’s concrete achievements has been the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act – a welcome return to our tested political constitution after a woeful experiment with partial codification.

The Commons has re-conferred on the Prime Minister that power of dissolution of which Walter Bagehot said in The English Constitution: “no assembly would — unless for historical accidents, and after happy experience — have been persuaded to intrust to any committee”.

But what is constitutional and what is politically advisable are very different things.

First, there is surely no doubt that even were the Conservatives to win a snap election in such circumstances, they would lose a lot of ground. There is no ‘get Brexit done’ imperative to sell the voters on here, it would be very clearly about shoring up a wounded prime minister.

(Indeed, Johnson himself could well lose Uxbridge, a humiliation which really would win him his place in the history books.)

And it would not likely prop him up for long, either. If current polling is to be believed, the result could unmake the remarkable redrawing of England’s political map which Johnson achieved in 2019. He might actually lose his own seat.

Even if he did not, he would cease to be the political wizard who delivered an historic majority, a fact which remains an important plank of his remaining appeal. Why would MPs be more loyal to the wounded deliverer of a small majority than to ‘triumphator Johnson‘?

In the event that he held on, it is very difficult to imagine how a government which had just suffered a major electoral setback and would thus be even more focused on internal management and firefighting would conduct the sort of intellectual refresh that it so badly needs.

So if there is any truth to this threat, Johnson loyalists should consider that it might backfire. If Tory MPs think he’s serious, they could be encouraged to rally round him for fear of losing their seats… or they might well be more motivated to vote against him in the initial no confidence vote.

Our Survey. Expectation of a Conservative-led Government at its lowest in 18 months.

26 Apr

Back in December, our editor looked at how the views of our panel on the likely outcome of the next general election had evolved during 2021.

At the time of the November survey, the combined total expecting some sort of Conservative victory – either an overall majority, a minority government, or a Tory-led coalition – stood at 78 per cent.

Today, it stands at just under 61 per cent: 45 per cent expect a majority, 12 per cent a minority government, and just 3.47 per cent a coalition headed by the Conservatives (perhaps reflecting a dearth of potential coalition partners).

When we last looked at this question, every month of 2021 up to November had that total up in the 80s or 90s, so this shows a clear slip in grassroots confidence – although perhaps not as large a one as might have been expected.

Here are the full figures for all the surveys since our December post:

  • April: 61 per cent
  • March: 72 per cent
  • February: 72 per cent
  • January: 66 per cent
  • December: 67 per cent

Most of the volatility is in the score for those expecting a majority government. The shares for a minority government or a Tory-led coalition are fairly stable at 10-13 per cent and 3-5 per cent respectively.

Richard Holden: With Labour as the alternative, Conservatives cannot afford any more divisions

18 Jan

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

West Shield’s Farm, Satley, Co. Durham

There are fewer better reality checks than meeting a handful of County Durham farmers, on site, as the light fades and the temperature drops, in the bleak mid-winter. They had got in touch with me about small gangs of people trespassing on their land with dogs and guns, causing repeated criminal damage and leaving them in fear for their families, livestock and their own safety if confronted.

These aren’t the poachers you might find in a by-gone episode of The Archers or Jake from Withnail and I – with a brace of pheasant in his jacket and an eel down his trousers. They’re just thugs who often leave what they shoot in their late-night “sport” and cause lots of damage to farmland and property as they do it. My local farmers have come together in the worst hit areas to fight back, sharing descriptions and number plates caught on cameras with each other and the police.

Any farming community has long memories and lots of small, mostly friendly, local rivalries. Sometimes these are more serious with little schisms and long-running, low-level animosity between, and even within, farming families. But usually, like with this mutual interest to get these local thugs off their patches, they come together in mutual benefit, for their shared interest when they need to and for the benefit of all.

Seeing those farmers reminded me of a time before I was an MP, when I was working behind the scenes. In various roles at Conservative HQ and in different government departments there were tough times. The most challenging time I had wasn’t Boris Johnson or Theresa May’s leadership campaigns, or during the 2015/6 Lords V Commons (unprecedented war) on Universal Credit, or ISIS in Iraq/Syria when I was at the MoD, or DfE battles with The Treasury over funding. The toughest time I had working in politics was at the end of May’s time in No 10 when I was at the Department for Transport.

There were events – drones at Gatwick at Christmas – that caused chaos. This happened at the same time as the Department was facing relentless attacks, trying to undermine our negotiating position with the EU and our ability to withstand a no-deal Brexit, which anyone interested in delivering the best deal with the EU needed to keep on the cards. The cabinet minister I worked for at the time eventually became the only Brexiteer left in cabinet. Others were picked off or left and we were very vulnerable to attacks, mostly motivated by other parts of government and the Conservative Party at the time, egged on by the media and the Opposition, who basically said that Brexit would never work and that they didn’t want it in the first place.

It was horrible. It was nasty, internecine warfare played out daily in the press. It was a political civil war in the governing party and in the country. It could have ended in a Corbyn-led Labour government and at times it was a bloody close-run thing that it didn’t.

Out of that chaos, eventually, Johnson emerged. He faced down the Brexit deniers and eventually forced a General Election. That delivered the first big majority in over three decades and allowed him to deliver on the express mandate of the British people to “Get Brexit Done” – whatever side they’d been on in 2016. The world then got side-swiped with a pandemic. Initially, we didn’t know much about it except that there were bodies being piled in football stadiums in Italy and elsewhere. Even now it is evolving. The calls that our Prime Minister and senior members of the cabinet have made and make on this are massive and have had to be done with far less idea about the outcome than any Brexit negotiation.

But unlike Brexit, the decisions being taken, at pace, have also been potentially matter of life and death for people. They’re also about the survival of many jobs, businesses and education across the country. And we have the same armchair generals thinking their solution is the right one as we did during Brexit. I’m as much a freedom loving Conservative as the next. I joined the party well over 20 years ago when William Hague was our leader – even first term Blair/Brown was too much for that Northern teenager then who felt that London-centric Labour had nothing to offer and did not understand the towns and villages he was growing up in. I don’t have all the answers to what we should do now and I trust that my colleagues in government come from the issue from same starting point as me in their decision making about the future.

Just before Christmas, our party looked like it might eat itself up over the response to Covid-19 – and we’ve got further big decisions before my next column. The damage we do ourselves if we constantly second guess everything ministers do is deep, not just to ourselves but to public confidence. Starmer, Streeting and Co have already proved their instincts are not ours. They wanted to keep lockdown back in July when it wasn’t needed. They would have kept us in the European Medicines Agency for ideological reasons. They wanted more restrictions over Christmas. And they are licking their lips at the prospect of facing a divided party.

Sue Gray’s investigation, which we await the results of will be the short-term determinant of what comes next for our party’s leadership. Many colleagues in Parliament and Conservative supporters in North West Durham have reflected to me that it will determine their view in coming days. But wherever it goes and whatever its consequences, it needs to be a moment where we draw a line under the questions being faced by the Government – one way or the other.

Like my North West Durham farmers facing the anti-social behaviour of the new breed of poachers, we Conservatives need to come together as we face our own anti-Conservative vote poachers in the opposition. Labour would love to see our freedom curtailed permanently for ideological reasons. In government we Conservatives have had to for short-term practical reasons. We are not the same and need to show the public we’re ready to move towards an endemic, rather than pandemic health response.

We have a common enemy as a nation in Covid. As Conservatives we have a common opposition in those whose instincts are not ours on how to deal with it in Labour. Labour would pursue a different path for ideological reasons – they’ve pushed for a different response throughout. I know that Conservatives in government want the same thing as backbenchers and the people who voted for me: freedom returned, Brexit delivered, levelling up in action, crime fought and borders secure, long-term fiscal stability with sound money and fairer, lower taxes, where work is always rewarded and our public services sustainably funded. Let’s allow Sue Gray get on with her job then get on with ours.

Clive Moffatt: The Government should come clean – and explain that reaching the net zero target by 2050 may not be possible

4 Jun

Clive Moffatt is an energy market analyst and former chairman of the UK Economic Security Group.

Back in April, the Government set the world’s most ambitious climate change target to reduce carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 (compared to 1990 levels) with emissions targeted to fall to net-zero by 2050.

Cutting out coal from the electricity generation mix was the main reason why in 2020 the UK was able to slash emissions to a level 51 per cent below 1990 levels, but this had little economic impact and was only made possible by the existence of plentiful and cheap natural gas. The next stage will be far more difficult and costly.

Realising the targets will require nothing less than a complete overhaul of the energy network, the removal of natural gas from the energy mix – not to mention the plans to change dramatically how we move about and what we eat.

Looking at the energy sector alone, there are so many technological uncertainties that estimates of the costs of transition to zero vary considerably, with capital cost estimates alone ranging from £50 billion per annum for the next 30 years (Climate Change Committee) to £100 billion per annum (National Grid). Furthermore, the bulk of the costs in terms of consumer levies and/or taxation is likely to fall on those less able to pay.

What has been sadly missing from the debate so far is a clear and agreed set of policy guidelines and criteria to evaluate policy options and replace advocacy at any cost.

For a start, the UK cannot afford to go it alone and what we do should be based on what others do to meet the global challenge.

Second, there is no point transitioning to net zero if there is an increased risk of energy shortfalls – heat and light – and so the security of affordable supplies must be considered.

Third, the Government’s does not have a good record at picking technology winners and so the market must be allowed to deliver least-cost solutions.

Finally, natural gas supplies the bulk of our domestic heating and power requirements and will continue to have a critical role to play in the energy mix up to and beyond 2050.

On this basis, a slower but more secure and affordable route to net zero is possible and the following 10 action points could form the basis of a detailed policy framework to be announced in a white paper ahead of the next General Election in 2024 or earlier.

  1. A longer and more gradual rising CO2 price to underpin new investment in “green” energy and allow time for industry to become more energy efficient.
  2. Incentives eg tax rebates and/or subsidies to allow heavy industry to cut emissions – based on agreement at a sector or company level.
  3. Carbon equalisation tax on imports – to offset unfair competition to UK industry from imports from countries with less onerous emissions restrictions.
  4. No more nuclear fission after Hinkley C – the costs of large scale nuclear far outweigh the economic benefits in terms of both additional baseload capacity and emissions reduction.
  5. Cut wind capacity target from 40GW to 20 GW by 2040 to avoid incurring massive transmission constraints and system balancing costs associated with intermittency.
  6. To underpin baseload power security of supply, use capacity payments to support the construction of efficient CCGT capacity with potential for carbon capture but not imposed at the outset.
  7. Gas (without CCS), Demand Side Reduction (DSR) and batteries to compete in open cost/reliability based auction to deliver peak flexible supply at key points in the local distribution network.
  8. Evidence to date suggests that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) would increase power prices sharply, The Government should support prototypes pending a more detailed impact assessment.
  9. We will be reliant on imported natural gas for heat and power up to and beyond 2050. So we need to underpin new investment in flexible gas storage – currently less than two per cent of annual gas demand.
  10. Date for outlawing new gas domestic boilers to be no earlier than 2035 and dependent on a detailed welfare assessment of the reliable options available to replace natural gas.

Looking ahead to COP26 later this year, the UK and a very hesitant EU are the only ones among the world’s 18 largest greenhouse gas emitters to have submitted detail emission reduction plans.

So now would be good time for the Government to come clean and “tell it how it is”, namely that for very good reasons – such as technological constraints, security of supply, industrial competitiveness and especially affordability – reaching the net zero target by 2050 might not be possible.

Boris Johnson would be criticised for being a COP26 “party pooper”, but industry and consumers would probably breathe a sigh of relief.

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 survey. Almost 75 per cent of members predict a Conservative majority at the next General Election

8 Aug

While it seems a long way away – and the Government has many other things to worry about present – last month ConservativeHome asked its survey panel members what they think is the most likely outcome of the next General Election.

Out of 951 respondents, 74.24 per cent (706) answered a Conservative majority. This was followed by 6.62 per cent (63) for a Labour majority (and the same percentage for a Labour-led coalition), a minority Tory government at 5.47 per cent (52), Tory-led coalition at 3.58 percent (34) and a minority Labour government at 3.47 per cent (33).

Although 75 per cent appears a rather confident estimate for the next General Election, it actually marks a slight shift from January this year, in which a bullish 92 per cent expected a Tory majority.

Obviously this was straight after Boris Johnson’s huge election victory in December last year, and a lot has changed, so it’s not all that surprising that the figure has dropped.

Even so, 75 per cent is no bad position to be in.