Since we revived our Next Tory Leader question after the last election, it has been topped either by “Other” or by Jacob Rees-Mogg. Last month saw the latter head the poll for the fifth time in succession.
The Environment Secretary is still second. However, he has been dramatically overtaken by Sajid Javid – who thus tops our Next Tory Leader question for the first time.
It is an astounding turnaround. Three months ago, Javid was languishing on a paltry two per cent. His ratings were so consistently poor that we contemplated removing him from the poll altogether.
But the month before last, in the wake of his appointment as Home Secretary, he took ten per cent of the survey, coming third. Last month, that pushed up to 13 per cent. Now he has gone a fair way to doubling that total – hitting 22 per cent.
So why this breakthrough now? Your explanation is likely to be no less good than ours, or better. Our best guess falls into two parts.
First, there may be a sense that change is coming sooner rather than later – that Theresa May might not be Prime Minister by this time next year, or even earlier, and that the time has come to think more probingly about a replacement.
This would explain the decline in Rees-Mogg’s previous lead. In our view, he is unlikely to stand in a leadership election any time soon. If he does, we don’t believe that other Conservative MPs will offer him as one of two candidates to Party members.
Next, Javid may offer what Party members seem to have been looking for since we restored the Next Tory Leader question: something new – a change from the old gang.
Rees-Mogg and “Other” can thus be seen to represent a rejection of the Cabinet top tier in place at the time of last June’s bungled election: David Davis, Boris Johnson, May herself.
Gove was not in government then, which may help to explain why he has performed so well in this question recently. Javid was – but at a sufficiently junior Cabinet level not to have been compromised by the campaign.
At any rate, his elevation to the Home Office has clearly persuaded many of our panel members to give him a second look, and some like what they see – especially, perhaps, since he has now come round to backing a clean Brexit.
On Monday, we will see how he does in our new run-offs feature against other Cabinet Ministers that may make the final ballot of two: Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson.
In the meanwhile, this finding comes as that crucial Cabinet summit at Chequers looms. It will do nothing to prevent nervous Cabinet Ministers, angling for future advantage, looking to him for a lead to follow.
None the less, Javid is grounded enough to know that the old rule of ConservativeHome surveys applies in his case as in others. Shares can fall as well as rise. Today’s fashion is tomorrow’s cast-off. What goes up can come down.