A cautionary note at the start. This is January’s survey, taken at the end of the month, as is usually the case. The draft EU deal proposal was published towards the beginning of this month, February. The poll therefore doesn’t take either it or reactions to it into account.
None the less, the direction of events is clear. Our latest Cabinet League Table yesterday found that those members associated with Brexit – such as Chris Grayling and Priti Patel – are seeing their ratings rise sharply if their previous standing in it was relatively low.
This pattern is echoed in this month’s Next Leader Survey. Liam Fox goes top for the first time. The progress of the only non-Minister in the survey (other than Boris) is less astounding than it seems. Over two-thirds of our Party member readers are for Brexit, according to this latest poll and its predecessors. Since Fox is the only declared pro-Brexit entrant in this part of the survey, it’s perhaps only surprising that his rating isn’t even higher.
The renenegotiation and referendum debate is also raising his profile in the media. He was all over the France and Calais story this week, and I can see no reason why his rating next month shouldn’t climb further. But mention of scores raises a very important point about context.
Fox’s 21 per cent is the joint lowest total since I became editor of this site in 2013. Boris gained the same total immediately post-election last June, at a time when enthusiasm for a new leader among respondents was even lower than usual, for obvious reasons. Fox has a fifth of the vote, and is only two votes clear of Theresa May, who has been top of the list recently. That fifth might be thought of as representing the hard right of the Party.
All in all, this part of the survey is in flux, and so I expect it to be for the duration of the referendum campaign – for example, I would expect the Home Secretary’s hint that she will be for Remain to affect her ratings. Fox, May, Boris and Gove are up a point each. Osborne is down two, Javid is down one. No-one is in a dominant position.
Hunt and Morgan are not really troubling the scorers. Given the speculation of members of the 2010 intake other than the latter entering the field, we may make some changes to it next month, though I don’t want to return to the pre-General Election period when there was a mass of runners and riders.
84 Party member respondents to the poll as a whole refused to answer this question, continuing no doubt to see it as premature. 699 took a different view.