Last month, Boris Johnson led our Next Tory Leader question with 26 per cent of the vote. This month, he is top with 24 per cent. Dominic Raab was second with 12 per cent; now he is second with 13 per cent. Michael Gove was third with nine per cent; this month, he is third with ten per cent. The mass of potential candidates on single figures ratings continues. These changes are footling.
It is striking how little the former Foreign Secretary is doing to maintain his lead. This morning sees his weekly outing in the Daily Telegraph, in which he has pop at the apparently forthcoming Bloody Sunday prosecutions. Most weeks, it rages against the Government over Brexit.
Otherwise, he is, by the standard of such a master of self-projection, withdrawn. Although he is not absent from Brexit-related proceedings in the Commons – he quizzed the Prime Minister during her statement of February 12, for example – he is not at the forefront of them either, like say Yvette Cooper or Bill Cash. For example, he didn’t participate in last week’s debate.
Nor does he appear on BBC Question Time or Any Questions. Indeed, he doesn’t seem to like being on a panel, and expose himself to the scrutiny of other members, or the chairman, or the audience. (Though he performed robustly in during the EU referendum TV debates.) His preferred forum is the big set-piece speech, like that he delivered at last year’s Party Conference ConservativeHome fringe event.
So what is going on? This site’s tentative answer is that the main obstacle to Johnson’s ambitions is not the voters. Nor (clearly) is it Party members. It is Conservative MPs, who may not forward his name to those members for the final stage of a leadership election. Which is why his priority at present is wooing them.
In the meantime, activists’ confidence in the coherence of the Government is low, and this lowers the ratings of potential rivals. So the former Foreign Secretary is able to sit it out, enjoying his regular double digit lead in this survey, with other polls also showing him in the lead.
The Daily Telegraph is many party members’ broadsheet of choice, so that weekly column is enough to remind them he’s still alive and kicking. His main opponent is not hostile MPs or disillusioned Remain voters or Cabinet members. It is the passing of time – and the prospect of someone else, someone new emerging who is less divisive, less scarred.