News

Political Insider: MHP + Savanta Conservative Leadership Snap Poll Results

James Gurling

As the runners and riders in the race to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative Leader and PM declare their intention, the news agenda rightly follows the complicated machinations of the internal Conservative Party leadership processes.  But it would be a mistake to view this as a race limited to Westminster opinion.

There have been major shifts in underlying stability of the core Conservative vote – evidenced by a series of devasting by-election losses – which mean that the Westminster selectorate will be looking over their shoulder to the views of their membership, and the wider public.

They know that, while the Tory membership will choose their next leader, it will be the public who decide how long they stay as Prime Minister.

It is early days, and the public has not yet had the chance to get to know many of the candidates, so together with our partner company Savanta, we conducted a poll to get an early idea of which candidates the voters want to see in Number 10.

Ready for Rishi

The poll suggests voters are ready for Rishi. Perhaps unsurprisingly so, given his high profile during the COVID crisis.  But it also suggests that the controversy around his Green Card and his wife’s Non-Dom status has failed to resonate as negatively with voters as Westminster insiders expected. His introductory film was much mocked in Westminster, but perhaps we should see it more as Sunak pitching himself over the heads of his MP colleagues to the electorate – their ultimate bosses. It is a high risk strategy.

Ben Wallace Surprises

Meanwhile, Ben Wallace is rarely considered a source of surprise in Westminster, but has managed to surprise twice in one weekend. Rating a clear second place in our poll, there were surprising signs of an early Ben Wallace bandwagon, so with clear support amongst Party members and voters alike, his decision not to take part in the process was all the more surprising.

Wallace’s decision may prove to be doubly influential.  Those openly supporting him will be up for grabs by others in the competition – and look to where his endorsement goes – but as a clearly popular and highly competent candidate, his decision also sets a high bar for other candidates declaring.  As the list of candidates grows ever longer, so Party patience may wear thin prompting pressure on the 1922 Committee to limit the field.

Johnson Should Go (Now)

Meanwhile our poll indicates popular patience with Johnson remains equally thin. A substantial majority of the public want Johnson to hand over immediately to an interim Prime Minister. This will be welcome news to Kier Starmer as he deploys his ‘Squatter in Downing Street’ attack, and present a further complication for the Backbench 1922 Committee as they finalise the election rules early this week.

What Next?

The campaign to replace Johnson has barely begun but, in much the same way as his Premiership, it is shaping up to be as unpredictable as it will be decisive. Candidates have thus far eschewed the formal press conference launch in order to minimise early missteps prompted by answering (or not) awkward questions. Perhaps the unintended consequence is that Westminster now abounds in rumours of dodgy dossiers circulating from rival camps (official or ‘freelance’). An unedifying campaign will serve only to further polarise positions and undo the ‘healing’ that the Conservatives must hope will be the by-product of the contest.

As the policy differences extend beyond promises on tax Insider will be there with you all the way through, with insight and comment, powered by further collaboration with Savanta.

To explore the implications of Boris Johnson’s resignation, the potential challengers for PM, and what a new government might mean for the policy landscape, please contact James Gurling, Executive Chair, Public Affairs.