I cheerfully admit to having no evidence whatsoever for the assertion in the headline of this piece, but what other explanation can there be for the nine-point drop in the Chancellor’s rating? He still leads our monthly Next Tory Leader poll – now for the fourth month running – but his share has plunged from 32 per cent last month to 23 per cent.
Boris has barged his way to the top of the queue of Conservative MPs questioning the tax credits plan (his Party Conference speech took a swipe at them), and it is hard to believe that this has nothing to do with the big jump of seven points in his rating. He now sits just two points behind Osborne at 21 per cent.
Otherwise, the poll continues in its consistent way. Sajid Javid remains steady on 17 per cent, Theresa May is up a point on 16 per cent – neither her strongly anti-immigration conference speech nor the speculation about her eventually coming out for leaving the EU have moved her total in any significant way.
Liam Fox is steady on 12 per cent. Michael Gove is up two points on eight per cent. Nicky Morgan and Jeremy Hunt swap places – she is now on two per cent, having been on one per cent last month, and he is in the reverse position. But the change is statistically insignificant.
With the likelihood of a referendum next autumn apparently receding, the leadership election timetable is being pushed back. If the former takes place in the autumn of 2017, it would be reasonable to expect the leadership contest to take place the following spring in the event of a Remain vote: for better or worse, I don’t expect David Cameron to stay on for long in such an event.
The best way of viewing our poll at the moment, therefore, is to read it as a barometer of content and discontent with the Government’s record as it moves out of its honeymoon phase, and begins to experience for real the hazards of governing with a majority of only 12. After all, the tax credits plans may have been defeated in the Lords, but they first ran into trouble among Tory MPs.
Finally, a lesson of the survey may be that while Osborne remains the front runner, Boris is the man that Party members and our readers turn to when they think a new start is required. Among our readers as a whole, he leads the Chancellor in the poll by 24 per cent to 21 per cent. But the usual cautionary note applies. Market sentiment is fickle. Shares can move up as well as down.
Just over 750 of our Party member readers responded to the question, and over 1700 replies were received overall.