Our survey. Next Tory leader – Johnson is top again. Here’s why he’s in pole position with minimum effort.

It is striking how little the former Foreign Secretary is doing to maintain his lead. Then again, he scarcely needs to stir – for the moment.

Last month, Boris Johnson led our Next Tory Leader question with 26 per cent of the vote.  This month, he is top with 24 per cent.  Dominic Raab was second with 12 per cent; now he is second with 13 per cent.  Michael Gove was third with nine per cent; this month, he is third with ten per cent.  The mass of potential candidates on single figures ratings continues.  These changes are footling.

It is striking how little the former Foreign Secretary is doing to maintain his lead.  This morning sees his weekly outing in the Daily Telegraph, in which he has pop at the apparently forthcoming Bloody Sunday prosecutions.  Most weeks, it rages against the Government over Brexit.

Otherwise, he is, by the standard of such a master of self-projection, withdrawn.  Although he is not absent from Brexit-related proceedings in the Commons – he quizzed the Prime Minister during her statement of February 12, for example – he is not at the forefront of them either, like say Yvette Cooper or Bill Cash.  For example, he didn’t participate in last week’s debate.

Nor does he appear on BBC Question Time or Any Questions.  Indeed, he doesn’t seem to like being on a panel, and expose himself to the scrutiny of other members, or the chairman, or the audience.  (Though he performed robustly in during the EU referendum TV debates.)  His preferred forum is the big set-piece speech, like that he delivered at last year’s Party Conference ConservativeHome fringe event.

So what is going on?  This site’s tentative answer is that the main obstacle to Johnson’s ambitions is not the voters.  Nor (clearly) is it Party members.  It is Conservative MPs, who may not forward his name to those members for the final stage of a leadership election.  Which is why his priority at present is wooing them.

In the meantime, activists’ confidence in the coherence of the Government is low, and this lowers the ratings of potential rivals.  So the former Foreign Secretary is able to sit it out, enjoying his regular double digit lead in this survey, with other polls also showing him in the lead.

The Daily Telegraph is many party members’ broadsheet of choice, so that weekly column is enough to remind them he’s still alive and kicking.  His main opponent is not hostile MPs or disillusioned Remain voters or Cabinet members.  It is the passing of time – and the prospect of someone else, someone new emerging who is less divisive, less scarred.

Cleverly calls on unions to take down hugely influential ‘school cuts’ site that uses ‘misleading’ statistics

Campaigners say the site influenced 871,000 voters and prevented a Conservative majority. The Statistics Authority says its calculations are wrong.

It’s been well-documented that part of the problem for the Conservatives in the 2017 General Election was that a campaign the party intended to be about Brexit ended up being about austerity – switching from what was a strong Conservative theme to a Labour topic, with commensurate results.

The mis-steps of May’s campaign contributed to that switch, evidently, but there were other factors at play, too. Intensive and effective third party campaigning from a broad alliance of left-wing organisations helped to boost the salience of Jeremy Corbyn’s messaging. Some of that was real-world activity, including unions mounting banners about spending on school railings, but much of it was online – content that went super-viral, forming a “red tide” (in the term of the Tory strategists swamped by it) of organically shared, compelling content.

It had a big influence on various topics. Some were quite surprising, such as pushing fox hunting and an ivory ban up the agenda, but others were on classic political issues, particularly education.

On that front, the ‘School Cuts’ site, set up by an alliance of trade unions, was particularly successful. According to the NUT, who spoke to the Corbynite site Skwawkbox about it at the time, the site had three million views between October 2016 and mid-April 2017, so it was already well-established.

Once the election was called, that went into overdrive – chalking up half a million new views in the first weekend of the campaign alone. The NUT’s General Secretary raked in thousands of retweets for content based on it, and a video drawn from it reportedly chalked up 4.5 million views. Some schools even controversially sent out letters and emails to parents publicising the link.

It certainly seemed to work. Fiona Millar’s Local Schools Network argues that 871,000 voters changed their mind based on school funding:

‘…we can be pretty sure these 871,000 found out about school funding as a result of the School Cuts campaign. And without those votes, it is equally certain that we would now have a Conservative majority government.’

Fair enough, in itself – campaigns are about campaigning, and if the other side do it better than you then you can expect to lose, that’s the name of the game. That’s generally my view, in that there is essentially zero mileage or benefit in complaining about being outdone rather than focusing on upping your own game.

In this instance, however, there is another reason to be somewhat concerned. The UK Statistics Authority has found three reasons to be concerned about the accuracy of the numbers promoted by the School Cuts site – including that its headline claim “risks giving a misleading impression”, and that “the method of calculation may also give a misleading impression of the scale of change for some particular schools.” This is a site visited by millions of people, which is shared thousands upon thousands of times, and which its proponents claim swayed the votes of hundreds of thousands and changed the outcome of the election. It can be expected to be a central online influencer when the next election comes, too.

As you might imagine, the Conservative Party is not impressed. James Cleverly has written to the National Education Union urging them to take down the site and issue a clarification rather than ‘stoke up fear among parents and children, in what I can only conclude to be a politically motivated statement’. Remarkably, the TES reports that the unions responsible have said they ‘stand by’ the figures, despite the UKSA’s verdict.

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.

Andrew Wood: Are school budgets being cut?

Greater clarity is needed to prevent special interest groups from presenting a misleading picture.

Cllr Andrew Wood is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council  and a councillor for Canary Wharf Ward.

Teaching unions and the Labour Party routinely claim that school budgets are being cut. It is true that many schools are going through difficult times, especially if they have declining pupil numbers. But the complexity of school funding has allowed an overly simplistic narrative to emerge, implying that all or most school budgets are being cut. This is not true and can be contradicted if detailed analysis is available per school. Unfortunately that information is not easily accessible.

Rising pension costs, higher national minimum wages, staff wage increases, changes in pupil numbers, and general inflation are all factors making budgeting for headteachers and school governors more difficult. Understandably they want more cash. But to understand changes in school finances we need to do it at school level as that is what local parents are concerned about.

With major changes coming in school funding across England due to the National Funding Formula, this subject is going to get more complex rather than less. It will result in good news in a number of areas. However in those areas like mine with high levels of pupil funding it will be easy to present national changes as involving rich areas benefiting at the expense of the poor – which is incorrect.

In the meantime, the complexity has made it easier for misleading information to circulate.

James Cleverly MP has already got Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority to look at national claims made by the School Cuts campaign website. Sir David said “We believe the headline statement that “91% of schools face funding cuts” risks giving a misleading impression of future changes in school budgets. The method of calculation may also give a misleading impression of the scale of change for some particular schools.” He also said, “It was not however possible to reproduce the exact figures published on the website, as the underlying data are not publicly available and the methodology is not wholly clear.”

But when it is possible to look at detailed local school data, we can also find stories giving a misleading impression.

For example, in Tower Hamlets, the Labour Group issued a press release recently which said, “New analysis from the National Education Union (NEU) of schools funding allocations show the Government has broken its promise that there would be “a cash increase for every school in every region” – with 31 schools in Tower Hamlets alone having seen their funding cut in 2018/19.”

I looked at the claim in detail as they related to Schools block funding allocations  – the data from which the NEU made their claim. I found that of the 31 schools listed 29 schools had a reduction in pupil numbers year on year, as schools are funded on a per pupil basis. This means their budgets are reduced (as the budget moves with the child) but their budgets fell by less than the % fall in pupil numbers.

Labour, by saying they should not have budget cuts, are in effect saying children cannot move schools – or if they do, they cannot take their budget with them, hardly fair. We also have an issue with declining birth rates in Tower Hamlets meaning fewer children entering school.

One school had converted into an academy school and was compensated for the change in business rates. Labour presented this as a budget cut; it was not. Another did see its budget fall by 0.1 per cent, more than its fall in pupil numbers, due to a big fall in the number of pupils learning English as an additional language.

Separately in a recent by-election leaflet Labour claimed that seven local schools were suffering from ‘deep Tory cuts’. In fact only one had a budget reduction last year, caused entirely by fewer school pupils. Their press release actually contradicted their own election leaflets as six of the schools they claimed suffered from budget cuts were not in their press release as suffering from budget cuts… They did not mention the other 58 local schools with funding increases.

Between 2017/18 and 2018/19 total block funding for all primary and secondary schools in Tower Hamlets had increased by 2.4 per cent. Total pupil numbers were up 1.3 per cent. In this one year funding increased in line with inflation and by more than pupil numbers. Most people would not call this a cut. And as long as increased pupil numbers do not create the need for extra staff, they do not have a major financial impact.

But schools with declining pupil numbers do suffer as it is not always easy to reduce staffing and overhead costs in proportion to reductions in pupil numbers.

The Tower Hamlets Labour Group also claimed that the National Funding Formula changes would result in a £24 million cut to Tower Hamlets schools over the next 10 years. They supplied no backup to this claim.

They also did not mention that Tower Hamlets gets £5,893 per year per primary school pupil, the highest rate in the country. York by contrast only gets £3,548 per pupil, the lowest in the country. That is a 66 per cent gap but the gap between teacher’s pay in Inner London and outside London is 21 per cent. London is an expensive city, but it is not clear that it is 66 per cent more expensive then York.

And these numbers do not include Pupil Premium which is worth an extra £1,320 for primary school pupils in receipt of free school meals. It is how the government ensures poorer pupils get extra funding.

But doing the detailed analysis to refute the Labour claims required a knowledge of school funding, downloading lots of spreadsheets, and scarce time which not everybody will have. It is time that somebody centralised this kind of analysis down to an individual school level, making it easy to access and comprehend. It should not be done by the unions themselves for obvious reasons.

The Department of Education should produce some kind of analysis of the information it already holds using data tools like Tableau especially while we transition to the National Funding Formula. Until this is done it will allow special interest groups to distort the reality of school funding. School budgets have got more difficult to manage and some areas have seen real terms cuts, but I suspect that the reality is not as bad as people’s perceptions. It would then be possible to have an adult discussion about what to do about it.

Profile: Philip May, the Prime Minister’s closest and greatest sounding board

He would be averse to leaving without a deal, but even more alarmed by the idea of taking any course of action which risked breaking the Tory Party into fragments.

Philip May is so good at not making himself the story that he seldom appears on the front page of a newspaper, except in photographs of a smiling but uncommunicative figure beside, or slightly behind, the Prime Minister.

He will have been pained by last Sunday’s front-page headline, “Philip May enters No 10 Brexit civil war.” The Sunday Times reported that Gavin Barwell, the Number Ten chief of staff, had accused the Prime Minister’s husband of thwarting a plan to get a cross-party deal with Labour MPs for a Customs Union with the EU.

One source said Barwell “took a pop at Philip May”, while another said, “Philip May was flamed by Barwell for scuppering the outreach to Labour.”

The story was a sign of the extreme pressure inside Number Ten as the Prime Minister and her advisers considered whether to go for Conservative and DUP support, or for a deal with Labour MPs which would infuriate many Conservatives.

In such an argument, Philip May’s instinct would be to preserve Conservative unity. For as one who knows him says, he is “very much a history buff”, well aware that ever since 1846, when Peel split and almost destroyed the Conservative Party, the duty of the Conservative leader is to keep the party together.

With Philip and Theresa May, this is not just a theoretical point. It springs from a tradition of practice. They are Conservative activists who since the 1970s have devoted enormous amounts of time to the generally unsung voluntary side of the party, and to this day do far more canvassing than might be expected when one considers their other commitments.

They could have indicated, in a self-important way, “We have better things to do than knock on doors.” But one of Philip’s characteristics is, as a Cabinet minister puts it, that “although very well-dressed, he is not in the least grand – there’s no side about him”.

The Mays met at Oxford in the autumn of 1976, when Philip arrived at Lincoln College, Oxford, to read History. According to one of his more laid-back contemporaries, in those days “he was blatantly pushy”.

He soon made his mark at the Union, of which in his last term he was elected President, between Alan Duncan, now a Foreign Office minister, and Michael Crick of Channel 4 News.

But although Philip was ambitious, his speeches impressed by their solidity rather than their brilliance. Many undergraduates showed off in a sub-Brideshead manner. He didn’t.

He was born in Norwich and brought up in the Wirral, where he attended Calday Grange Grammar School, founded in 1636. As he related while appearing along with his wife on The One Show during the 2017 general election campaign, his father was a shoe salesman:

“Yes, he worked for a footwear company for the whole of his career in fact. People did in those days. He joined the same company in the late 1940s and went on doing that until the 1980s when he retired.”

Here is a long-term commitment accepted as natural, though no longer fashionable.

Almost as soon as Philip reached Oxford, he met Theresa Brasier, who is 11 months older than him, and in 1974 had gone up to St Hugh’s College to read Geography.

They were introduced to each other by Benazir Bhutto at an Oxford University Conservative Association disco; were married in September 1980 by her father, the Reverend Hubert Brasier; and have remained – as everyone who knows them attests, and as can be seen when one watches the interview quoted above – deeply in love.

They are Anglicans, and on Sunday mornings can be found worshipping at St Andrew’s, Sonning, on the Thames just outside Reading.

While fulfilling this regular commitment, they are often photographed but seldom talk. They just do it.

They supposed when they married they would have children, but the children did not come, and again they do not talk much about this.

Her parents died soon the wedding. Philip became, and has remained, her “rock”. Although their contemporaries thought he was more likely to go into politics than she was, it happened the other way round.

They both took jobs in the City, he at the brokers de Zoete & Bevan, she at the Bank of England. They bought a house in Wimbledon and got involved in local politics. He was made chairman of Durnsford Ward, where she was the Conservative candidate and in 1986 narrowly defeated Labour to gain a seat on Merton Council.

In 1990, Philip became chairman of Wimbledon Conservative Association, where Oliver Colvile, then the local agent, recalls – as Rosa Prince relates in her life of Theresa May – that during the 1992 general election,

“Despite his very demanding City job, Philip took his job as one of my bosses very seriously. We used to speak at least a couple of times a day. When I made the occasional mistake he would dismiss it is ‘fog of war, dear boy, fog of war’.”

Colvile went on to become MP for Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, but lost his seat at the 2017 general election.

In 1989 Theresa won was selected as the candidate in Durham North West, a safe Labour seat. She and Philip spent the two and a half years leading up to the 1992 election travelling between Wimbledon and Durham, often taking friends up for the weekend to stay in the house they had bought in the village of Lanchester.

Rather unusually, she opted to do no hustings with the sitting MP – something the underdog is usually keen to do, in order to become better known.

Her method was to get out the Tory vote by meeting Tory voters in their houses, along with those neighbours the Tories reckoned might be receptive. Already she possessed a strong disinclination to stage a performance for the benefit of the wider public.

Philip was the trailing spouse, but did not opt out. A pattern of loyal support was already in place, which continued once she had been elected in 1997 for the safe Tory seat of Maidenhead.

“Who are the Mayites?” people sometimes ask. The answer is that the main one is called Philip.

He was one of the few men who turned up to the meetings held for the spouses of Conservative MPs. The wife of a Tory MP recalls that Philip was “treated as a precious object” because he was so unusual.

A friend who has known him since Oxford says:

“He’s an extremely shrewd, thoughtful, rather gentle man. He’s politically very alert. He knows where people are coming from when they come into a room.

“He never ever imposes his views on others. He behaves rather gently with other people’s sensibilities. He doesn’t crash around.

“They’re very close. They were already very close at Oxford.  They have very little of the ambitious restlessness that is often associated with senior politicians.”

Theresa uses Philip as a sounding board for her major speeches and major decisions. It is impossible for an outsider to know whether, as I would guess, he confirms what she has already decided to do, or changes her mind.

Chris Wilkins, who wrote speeches for her and was her Director of Strategy, recently described, in a podcast with Anushka Asthana of The Guardian, how he and three other senior advisers including Nick Timothy set about persuading her to call the 2017 general election.

Philip was the most resistant to their case:

“He definitely had the largest reservations of anyone in the room. His point really that he made was that while he could understand all the arguments we were making, we also had to understand what a big risk it was for them as a couple, and he said we had to appreciate that it had taken them years to get to the position of being in Number Ten, and we were asking them to put that all at risk.”

The Prime Minister nevertheless went ahead and called the election, and Philip was there to support her when she discovered to her horror that it left her in a weaker parliamentary position.

On the great question of Brexit, Philip like her was a quiet Remainer. He would be averse to the risk of leaving without a deal, but would be even more alarmed by the idea of taking any course of action which risked breaking the Tory Party into fragments, with anarchy or a Corbyn government the likely consequence.

His greatest influence is probably not on questions of policy, but on her whole style of politics. Philip possesses a quiet wit, and generally knows how to bring a smile to her face.

She herself has said he is very good at knowing when to bring her a cup of tea – perhaps the most uncontentious of all ways in which an English person can demonstrate sympathy and support. Whisky, beans on toast and flowers are also deployed when the appetite for them is discerned.

Like her, he feels an instinctive distaste for the look-at-me-I’m-great style of politics. To him, that would seem bogus. To the British press, this refusal to draw attention to herself by saying interesting things seems wilfully dull.

The large section of the British public which values respectability above originality probably sides with Philip. She herself said, when interviewed by James Cleverly for The House: “I’m not a stand-up comedian. I am Prime Minister.”

When Cleverly ventured to ask her what role her husband plays in her decision making, she bridled:

“I just wondered when you asked me about Philip’s role, whether if I was a male Prime Minister, you would have asked the same question about their wife?”

The answer is that it is still easier, if she chooses to play it that way, for a wife to opt out of that side of things.

But when the pressure is on, any spouse is in danger of getting drawn in, and decades of carefully avoiding the limelight may be set at naught.

Another Oxford friend – a devout Leaver, so inclined at this fraught moment in our island story to be suspicious of Remainers – says of the Prime Minister’s husband:

“Philip is politically combative and not terribly subtle. At certain points he will say, ‘You fight them darling’.”

Cleverly triumphs as 2018’s Best Politician on Social Media

Combining humour, personality, and robust combativeness has proved a winning formula for the Deputy Chairman.

Knowing what people value from a politician on social media is always tricky. Is it taking the fight to the other side? Championing your own cause and values? Deploying humour? Humanising oneself, and by extension one’s colleagues, by giving a glimpse into your life and personality?

Our winner in this category displays each of those qualities in his online activities, hence his stonking victory – congratulations to James Cleverly. Commiserations to Liz Truss and Gavin Williamson, whose strong Insta games didn’t get them over the line.

As for our fourth wildcard contestant, it’s interesting to note that the Absolute Boy still picked up 13.5 per cent of the votes among Conservative members. His digital clout is undeniable.

Our survey. Next Tory leader. Johnson is top again. Javid second, Raab third. Hunt is now fourth.

There are three contenders in double figures, one well ahead of the other two – and a very long tail of names in single figures,

It’s much the same story in our final Next Tory Leader survey of 2018.  Boris Johnson is top with more than double the score of the man who stays second – Sajid Javid.  The Home Secretary continues narrowly to fend off Dominic Raab, who stays third.

Last month, Johnson was on 24 per cent.  He moves up a bit to 27 per cent.  Javid puts on a point to come in at 13 per cent.  Raab does likewise and is now on 12 per cent.

David Davis drops from ten per cent to seven per cent.  Jeremy Hunt is up from seven per cent to nine per cent, and displaces Davis in fourth place.

But the snapshot picture is that there are three contenders in double figures, one well ahead of the other two – and a very long tail of names in single figures, to which we must add Esther McVey, new in the table this month.

Footnote: Theresa May can’t now be challenged via a confidence ballot for the best part of a year, so as a courtesy we’ve suspended a question we’ve asked since July last year – namely, if she should resign as Party leader and when.

However, it would be foolhardy to assume that she will necessarily be in place in twelve months’ time or earlier.  So the Next Tory Leader question stays pertinent.

WATCH: Cleverly – “Rejecting this deal means damaging uncertainly…and a real risk that we don’t leave the EU at all.”

At the start of Channel 4’s TV debate on Brexit, the Conservative Party Deputy Chairman makes his case.

Yesterday in the Commons. More opponents than supporters of the Prime Minister’s deal on the Conservative backbenchers.

That said, there was more backing for her from her party than some of today’s headlines suggest.

Distinguishing a supportive question to a Minister from the Conservative backbenches from a non-supportive one is necessarily a term of art.

With that cautionary qualification in mind, we offer our best shot at estimating which questions to the Prime Minister from her own Party were supportive, non-supportive, and neutral – for example, requests for information.

We do so simply to get a flavour of where Tory MPs are on the proposed Brexit deal, to which the answer, as you might expect, is “deeply divided”.

This morning’s headlines suggest that Theresa May had a more hostile reception than our breakdown suggests, but you are in a very bad fix as Prime Minister when the number of unsupportive questions outnumbers the number of supportive ones/

Supportive backbenchers

  • Peter Bottomley
  • James Cleverly
  • Alberto Costa
  • Vicky Ford
  • Richard Graham
  • Damian Green
  • Patrick McLoughlin
  • Huw Merriman
  • Andrew Murrison
  • James Heappey
  • Nick Herbert
  • Neil O’Brien
  • Andrew Percy
  • Nicholas Soames
  • Matt Warman

Total: 15

– – –

Neutral

  • Peter Aldous
  • Luke Graham
  • Kirstene Hair
  • Greg Hands
  • Caroline Johnson
  • Marcus Jones
  • Jeremy Lefroy
  • Edward Leigh
  • Maggie Throup
  • David Tredennick
  • Martin Vickers
  • Bill Wiggin
  • William Wragg

Total: 13

– – –

Unsupportive backbenchers

  • Steve Baker
  • Peter Bone
  • Conor Burns
  • Bill Cash
  • Mark Francois
  • Justine Greening
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Boris Johnson
  • David Jones
  • Owen Paterson
  • Mike Penning
  • Dominic Raab
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg
  • Desmond Swayne
  • Michael Tomlinson
  • Ross Thomson
  • Theresa Villiers
  • Sarah Wollaston

Total: 18