Our monthly surveys help to demonstrate that a very big tranche of Party members – two-thirds, it says – are currently in favour of Britain leaving the EU. What the poll doesn’t and and perhaps can’t show is how strongly they hold that view, and how much Brexit will matter to them in the coming Conservative leadership election that could take place as early as this autumn.
Perhaps this month’s result gives us a clue. The sole candidate in our poll who backs it, coming out to do so late last month while the poll was live, sees his ratings leap by five points to take him to second place (for the first time). That’s Liam Fox, up from fifth. And the candidate who is flirting incorrigibly with it sees her support climb by three points to take her to the top. That’s Theresa May, up from joint third. She hasn’t led the survey since December 2014.
You may be able to think of a reason for these shifts other than the Brexit factor, but I have to confess that I can’t. It may also explain why two men who are keeping shtum about the matter, Sajid Javid and Boris Johnson, can observe their support fall very slightly and why one man who is clearly for Remain – George Osborne – sees his backing drop by five points, in a mirror image of Fox’s move up, knocking him from first place all the way down to fifth.
I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the significance of this result. The shifts are relatively small by some measures – so, for example, the Chancellor’s vote last month was 154 out of 690, and this month 125 out of 812. But they do help to raise the question of how Party members would react to a quick Remain vote in a leadership contest. (I am assuming that Osborne would be out of it were Britain to vote to leave.)
It might be that they would take such a result on the chin, conclude that the Cameron/Osborne dual leadership had won a victory fair and square, that voters are with them – and that the crown should duly pass to the Chancellor. Or it could be that resentment against such a verdict would rankle, and that were the final ballot to present members with the choice of Osborne or a Leave supporter they would plump for the latter.
84 respondents to the survey skipped the question altogether, presumably continuing to believe that it is premature, but 728 did not. We continue to delete duplicate votes that are cast – and for one candidate in particular – and to remove what is evidently an organised push, again for the same candidate, taking place from Parliamentary IP addresses. This takes time and if it continues we will name names.