- Last September, I reported that Dominic Raab had plummeted third from top in July to fourth from bottom in our Cabinet League Table. Today, he is back to sixth from top, having worked his way out of the relegation zone.
- I write this to offer comfort to enthusiasts for Rishi Sunak, who was eleventh last month, but now finds himself plunged to third from bottom, in the wake of a Spring Statement with which the majority of our panel is dissatisfied.
- Having managed the table for a long time, I know that what goes down can come up again – and vice-versa. Our respondents are very knowing, and many use the table as a form of running commentary rather than a means of permanent judgement.
- At the top, the changes are very marginal, with Steve Barclay’s fall of nine points from 64 to 55, and drop from second to fifth, being the largest movement in the top ten – and it’s not a very large one in the great scheme of events.
- At the bottom, Priti Patel falls into negative ratings after a month’s bad headlines over Ukrainian refugees. The Home Office is so permanently troubled that it’s hard to see her moving up towards the comfort of mid-table in the near future.
- Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is out of negative ratings, where he had been for three months running, and into the middle of the table. This is at once an impressive recovery from where he was and a lacklustre rating given his position as Prime Minister.
- Johnson will undoubtedly have gained from his handling of the Ukraine, which received an overwhelming thumbs up from our panel. Ninety-three per cent took a positive view of it and 58 per cent a negative one of Sunak’s Spring Statement.
Our monthly panel of Party members has become very knowing. It seems to me increasingly to use the Cabinet League Table to upscore and downscore Ministers on the basis of the month’s events. And so –
- Ben Wallace’s vigorous response to the crisis in eastern Europe, coming relatively soon after his mature conduct during the Afghanistan debacle, propels him upwards from 62 points to 80 points – and he displaces Liz Truss after her year-long reign at the top of the table. The Defence Secretary’s name has crept into the margins of future Party leadership speculation. It will now advance further.
- Truss herself is down from 74 points to 67 points. That’s a small drop and of almost no significance, but it may indicate that the Foreign Office, with its multilayered challenges, is a tougher proposition for the occupant than International Trade in the wake of Brexit, in which she was able to roll over a series of deals.
- Boris Johnson is still in negative ratings, but his score must be seen in the context of a positive total on Covid handling, and a change of mood about the toxicity of “partygate”. Last month, his rating was -34 points, a record low for him. This month, it is heading in the right direction.
- Another interesting Johnson indicator is the fall in support for his most vocal critic in this table – Douglas Ross. Last month, the latter was on 30 points. This month, he is in the black by a slender margin of six. The Prime Minister has his supporters as well as his critics. And they have marked the Scottish Tory leader down.
- Elsewhere, the movements tend to follow publicity, good and bad. So it is that Mark Spencer plunges even deeper into the red. That Jacob Rees-Mogg, ninth last month, plunges to fifth from bottom. That Sajid Javid gets a Covid bounce from twelfth to sixth. And that Michael Gove, who has had a quieter month, recovers to mid-table.
- Rishi Sunak’s score at 39 points is his lowest as Chancellor. One can cite individual reasons for this, such as the coming National Insurance rise. But it’s the big picture that matters. Many panel members clearly believe that the Government is taxing and spending too much, and pin at least some of the blame at the Chancellor’s door.
These results came in over the weekend, and so don’t take into account the Sue Gray report and yesterday’s Parliamentary statement. My best guess is that neither will help to improve the Prime Minister’s rating.
- Perhaps the only good news for Boris Johnson is that his score, woeful as it is, is nowhere near as dire as that of Theresa May in the spring of 2019 – when she broke the survey’s unpopularity record, coming in at a catastophic -75 points.
- Nonetheless, this is the Prime Minister’s second consecutive month in negative ratings, his third altogether, and his lowest total of the lot. The explanation? Parties, competence, Covid restrictions, Paterson, taxes and Net Zero, not necessarily in that order.
- Nadine Dorries is down from fourth (plus 61) to mid-table sixteenth (plus 25), Michael Gove from twelfth to sixth from bottom (plus 43 to plus 16) , and Sajid Javid from eighth to twelfth (plus 54 to plus 29). All are associated with support for Covid restrictions.
- Mark Spencer stays in the red and Priti Patel inches into it: in her case, the explanation is “small boats”. Liz Truss is top again, Ben Wallace is up from second to fifth, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Nadhim Zahawi are scoring well. Generally, there’s a drift down.
- Our first post-reshuffle Cabinet League Table suggests that the pieces are still settling on the board – at least as far as our members’ panel is concerned.
- The general pattern seems to be that those who did well out of the shuffle have done well in the ratings, that there’s concern about the uncertain economic future and the growing state…that activists are willing to make Ministers down if necessary, but that they’re mostly suspending judgement.
- Liz Truss’s rating remains broadly stable, but she opens up a 15 point gap at the top. That’s because Rishi Sunak is down by about ten points from second to fifth. That’s not a big drop – but we read it as a reflection of that nervousness about living standards and squeezed incomes.
- Elsewhere, Ben Wallace is up marginally, but enough to put him second in the table for the first time. David Frost is third. Nadhim Zahawi bounces straight in at fifth, Nadine Dorries at seventh, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan at ninth. Elsewhere, there’s not much movement in terms of scores…
- …Though Michael Gove is up by 15 points and Dominic Raab by 17, perhaps reflecting a post-reshuffle willingness to wipe the slate relatively clean…
- …But though no-one is in negative ratings, Priti Patel is now very exposed at third from bottom in the table. Much of that will be boats; some Insulate Britain and public disorder; some, police failings.
- Grant Shapps brings up the rear, doubtless drawing fire because of frustration about restrictions on travel abroad.
- The Prime Minister’s pre-conference position really is very poor: the best explanation we have is that he is the lightning conductor for activists’ unease over economic prospects and strategic direction.
- We’ve now put all Ministers who attend Cabinet in the table, as well as Ben Elliot, the co-party Chairman. Oliver Dowden is some 30 points ahead of him.
- Last month, Dominic Raab was third from top in our Cabinet League Table, on 73 per cent. This month, he drops by 21 places to fourth from bottom, coming in at 6 per cent and narrowly avoiding negative ratings. It’s one of the biggest falls ever in our table – almost on the scale of Theresa May’s dizzying fall from top of the table into negative territory in the wake of the bungled 2017 election.
- Meanwhile, Ben Wallace moves up from ninth, on 51 per cent, to fourth, on 64 per cent.
- The Westminster story of the last week or so has concentrated on Raab v Wallace – and this finding seems to show Conservative activists taking sides. Our take is that it’s more of a verdict on how British servicemen and the Foreign Office have reacted to events in Afghanistan; and on Wallace’s robust take on Joe Biden and, perhaps, Pen Farthing. The Defence Secretary seems to be morphing into a politician who, like the Prime Minister himself, is seen by many people outside Westminster as authentic.
- Boris Johnson drifts up from fourth from bottom on three per cent to seventh from bottom on 13 per cent.
- Otherwise there’s little change in the table, but it’s worth closing by having a look at Priti Patel. Last month, she was tenth from bottom on 26 per cent. This month, she is eight from bottom on 18 per cent. As recently as May, she was among the top members of the table: sixth from top on 64 per cent. You will have your own view on the reasons for her fall. Ours is: channel boats.
The table now seems to be in set pattern established soon after Britian’s vaccination success became apparent.
The same Ministers remain at its top and the same too at its bottom. Consider the case of Kwasi Kwarteng, up a place this month at fourth: his score, 64.7, is exactly the same as it was then.
There are a mix of small score and table movements up and down, but none of them worth expending many words about – though we pause for the Ministers at the very top and bottom of the table.
At the top, there is Liz Truss, on her fourth table-topping month – and a record high of 89 per cent.
That’s a reflection, in a minor key, of her decisive handling of the Equalities brief and, in a major one, of the rapid succession of trade deals: most of them rollovers, true – but accomplished more speedily than some anticipated.
At the bottom, there is Gavin Williamson – on minus 27 per cent.
That’s a dreadful rating, but less so than the -43 per cent he scored last month, or this – 36 per cent and -48 per cent during the previous ones.
Our reading is that his early and emphatic support for free speech during the Batley Mohammed cartoons row, which we haven’t heard the last of, accounts for his improvement.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- In our first post-general election survey, no fewer than 18 Cabinet members had a satisfaction rating above 50 per cent. Now, only six do.
- Of those six, Liz Truss is a fraction higher than she was (61.7 per cent to 61.3 per cent), Dominic Raab up an insignificant point (66 per cent to 67 per cent), and Rishi Sunak up to the top of the table (79 per cent to 83 per cent).
- Jacob Rees-Mogg has risen by only two points, from 48 per cent to 50 per cent, but was then tenth from bottom. Now he is sixth from top. The difference between his change in score and change in place says everything you need to know about how Cabinet ratings, generally, have fallen.
- None more so than Boris Johnson. In that post-election table, he was top on 93 per cent. Now he is eighth from bottom on 25 per cent. That’s a drop from sixth from top on 57 per cent last month – a fall of almost half into the bottom third of the table.
- Robert Jenrick is still in negative territory, and Amanda Milling now joins him. Gavin Williamson may take comfort from the fact that his expected fall into negative territory isn’t record-breaking. In April last year, Theresa May reached -74 per cent.
- The members’ panel has good record as a guide to activist voting in leadership elections, so we’ve no doubt that this month’s survey is picking up unease about the Government’s competence, consistency and sense of direction.