Would the Tories win with Boris as leader?

That is the question Tory MPs are asking this morning.

One should always be wary of polls showing that a political party would perform better under an alternative leader. Voters have a habit of favouring would-be leaders until the moment they're actually in charge. But in the current climate, it's unsurprising that a YouGov poll showing that a Boris Johnson-led Conservative Party would reduce Labour's poll lead to just one point (as opposed to six under "a Cameron-led party") has caused much excitement among Tories this morning.

As Rafael has argued, such findings have more to do with discontent with Cameron than they do with adoration for Johnson, but it is still striking that the number of voters believing that Boris is "well suited" to the job of prime minister has risen from 24 per cent in May to 36 per cent now. As the election draws closer, Tory MPs will pay even more attention to Boris's polling numbers. ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomerie predicts in today's City AM that "Boris will become Tory leader before the next election if Conservative MPs conclude that they won't keep their seats with David Cameron still in place."

The Mayor's success in winning re-election in a Labour-voting city (even at the 2010 election, Labour outpolled the Tories by 36.6 per cent to 34.5 per cent) has convinced some Tories that he can reach those parts of the electorate that Cameron cannot. As I have noted before, it was Boris who won the London mayoral election, not Ken who lost it. Despite claims that he was a drag on Labour, Livingstone finished just 0.8 per cent behind his party. The reality, perhaps, is that any Labour candidate would have struggled against Boris, who successfully detached himself from the Conservatives and retained his unrivalled personal appeal. Whether he could replicate this feat on a national level (and I, like Rafael, doubt he could) is now the key question for the Tories.

A Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson would reduce Labour's poll lead to a point. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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