Boris Johnson speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Boris would boost Tory support by just one point if he became leader

The Conservatives need to change more than just their leader if they are to win a majority. 

What most excites Tories about Boris Johnson's coming return to parliament is the belief that, as leader, he will be able to deliver what David Cameron has not: a Conservative majority. The Mayor defied political gravity to twice win election in Labour-voting London leading him to be dubbed "the Heinkeken Tory": the man who reaches parts of the electorate that others cannot. 

Today's YouGov/Sunday Times poll shows that he is the public's top choice to be the next Conservative leader, backed by 30 per cent, compared to 16 per cent for Theresa May, 7 per cent for George Osborne and 3 per cent for Michael Gove. But despite this, when asked how they would vote if Boris led the Tories (and if Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg still led their parties), the Tories' share increases by just one percentage point from 33 per cent to 34 per cent. 

Although the Mayor would prove successful at attracting Ukip voters, with 20 per cent of those who currently support the party backing the Tories, he would have little effect on Conservative support among current Labour and Lib Dem voters. Worse, he would actually repel current Tory voters, with 92 per cent backing a Johnson-led Conservative Party compared to 97 per cent for a Cameron-led one. 

This is partly because many simply don't think he's up to the job of prime minister, with 36 per cent saying he is and 43 per cent saying he is not. By contrast, a majority of voters (52 per cent) believe Cameron is up to the job, with 37 per cent saying he is not. This is a reminder that the Tories already have a relatively popular leader, who currently outpolls his party by eight points (41 per cent to 33 per cent). That Cameron supporters don't automatically become Conservative supporters is a reflection of the Tories' enduring brand problems. 

While it's always wise to treat hypothetical polls with caution, today's poll does suggest that the election of Boris as leader won't alone be enough to boost the Tories unless they undergo more fundamental change.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496