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

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

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