When we last asked our usual Next Party Leader question in our regular monthly survey, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom were trailing Boris Johnson and Theresa May – who herself was the front-runner by a whisker.
What a difference six days can bring.
Johnson is out, Gove is in, we have a final list of runners and riders – and Fox has gone one way, and Leadsom the other.
The former’s ratings are falling through the floor. He led this survey as recently as February with about a fifth of the vote. Now he is down from 13 per cent last month to five per cent.
Meanwhile, the latter’s score is soaring into the stratosphere up, up and away. She scoops 38 per cent – a single point higher more than Theresa May.
In any other month in living memory, 37 per cent would have been enough to lead the survey. But not any more. This is because the contest that our Party respondents want is a two-horse race – a final of Leadsom v May, who between them mop up 75 per cent of the vote.
Languishing a point ahead of Fox’s 5 per cent is Stephen Crabb on 6 per cent. And Michael Gove – the mighty figure who, when last in this survey, topped it altogether – is becalmed on 13 per cent.
I expect that a poll – which necessarily finds Party members who are less active and therefore don’t respond to our surveys – would be better for May and worse for Leadsom. May performed even better in a recent YouGov poll of Party members than she did in our survey, and it is reasonable to expect that a similar exercise would find her on top.
That is not quite the end of the story, however. Many of those less active Party members won’t yet have heard of Leadsom. But they most certainly will have done by the end of the month, assuming that she indeed goes before them in the final round.
It is therefore possible to believe that our survey has unearthed a trend – namely, that the more members see of Leadsom, the more they will like her, especially since her view on Brexit is closer to the majority of them than those of May.
However, the opposite could also happen. It could be that Party members decide that they want to get the contest over with and stick with the lady they know better – especially if May does really, really well in the MPs’ ballots. Party members have the right to vote for whichever of the two candidates who are put before them. But will they really want to take a different view from MPs if the latter plump decisively for one candidate?
We will know soon enough.