The three leading contenders from last month's poll have thus pulled ahead of the next two down.
Boris maintains his narrow one point lead over Gove, and May's recent advance inches further forward.
"He is the Ulysses of our time, and sees the leadership as his Penelope. The Mayoralty is only Calypso - a stopping-point on the way back to what he sees as his own, as his possession. His competitors are the suitors. He is coming for them with a quiverful of fiery arrows."
The Mayor of London's leadership ambitions are haunted by what Donald Rumsfeld would call a Known Known and a Known UnKnown.
The Known Known is the unhappy timing, from his point of view, of the next general and Mayoral elections. The first takes place in May 2015. The second takes place a year after. Were Boris to re-enter the Commons in 2015 and David Cameron to lose, the election the former would not be able to enter an immediate Conservative leadership contest without being seen to break his word to serve a full-term as Mayor. (It is one thing to be both Mayor and an MP, as Ken Livingstone has done. It would be another to be both Mayor and a Party leader.)
The Known UnKnown is the general election result. I write above about the possibility of Cameron no longer being Prime Minister after 2015, but it's far from certain that this will be the case. He may well return to Downing Street at the head of another coalition government - either a recasting of this one with the Liberal Democrats, or a new one with the minor parties. A Boris who had re-entered the Commons would, in these circumstances, be entitled to a Cabinet post: given his twice-victorious record in London, a Labour City, it could scarcely be otherwise.
The results of our latest survey, conducted late last week, now find as follows:
Gove's steady rise will reflect the view of members that he is the Government's most effective Minister - in terms both of shaping policy to Conservative ends and taking on the left.
There's no convincing reason for Boris's fall of ten points other than the obvious one: he hasn't been in the news much during the past month.
This poll should be read in conjunction with James Forsyth's column in this week's Spectator. James sets out the Mayor's planned path to the Premiership - which we will return to.
More directly to the point, as far as this poll is concerned, is Boris's apparent belief that Gove will now not run for the leadership post-2015 if David Cameron loses.
James claims that the Mayor now sees Theresa May, the deporter of Abu Qatada, as his main potential rival. She's up in our poll - but her rise is modest.
Gove may not stand for the leadership if his friend, David Cameron, vacates it. Or he may. But one thing is certain: he has no shortage of admirers who would urge him to.
These include the Prime Minister himself. George Osborne, of course, is not on easy terms with Boris, to put it mildly.
The prospect of the Cameron and Osborne duo pleading with Gove to stand - and preserve their legacy from the ravages of Boris - is not so far-fetched as to be beyond raising.
Abu Qatada could have launched a last ditch legal appeal, rather than get on that plane from RAF Northholt. Why didn't he? Perhaps life in Belmarsh was proving unpleasant. Perhaps he and his family were slowly ground down by all the negative publicity and its consequences. Perhaps he simply thought he'd lose in court. But whether so or not, he and his lawyers must certainly have been persuaded that he will now get a fair trial in Jordan. And the factor that would have made the difference in this calculation would have been the new treaty between Britain and Jordan, drawn up after months of toil by James Brokenshire and Theresa May.
This is a huge moment for the Home Secretary. She has already notched up Abu Hamza on her office wall. Now she can add the name of Abu Qatada, one of Al Qaeda's most senior players. The Government's critics will say that we shouldn't be in the ECHR at all and that, were we not, Qatada would have been forcibly deported many years ago. They are undoubtedly right on the first point, and probably so, too, on the second, since our courts have twice upheld efforts to expel him. But they are missing an important point. The word on the street is that Britain's politicians are lost amidst a swamp of human rights laws - to the scorn of benefit-claiming terrorists.
What is the best course to take in an interview if your name has been touted as a future Conservative leader - and you might not be averse to the prospect? Phillip Hammond provides a masterclass of how to navigate such choppy waters in his interview with Paul Waugh in this week's House magazine.
But is the Defence Secretary really "on manoeuvres"? An important difference between Hammond and those others mentioned in the same breath as the leadership - Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Theresa May - is that there is no suggestion, no sign of a Hammond team: of an operation that works on his behalf. (Up to a point, this is also true of the Education Secretary.)
His public demand for a further scaleback in welfare spending can be seen simply as a Minister defending his Department. And his following in Gove's footsteps on how he'd vote in an In/Out EU referendum were one held today could be read as a man speaking his mind - as could his vocal criticism of Downing Street over same-sex marriage.
None the less, the accumulation of events is suggestive. But what's good for the goose is good for the gander: having written earlier this morning that it's too early to take a firm view about Boris, it follows that it's too early to take a view on anyone else. And Hammond has work to do: keeping our armed forces out of the Syrian swamp, for a start.
The sum of Lord Ashcroft's stupendously sizeable poll about Boris Johnson this morning - Ashcroft Polls will soon be taking samples from the entire country - is that the London Mayor is more popular but less rated than the Prime Minister. Our proprietor writes on this site today -
"When asked who would make the best PM, each of the three party leaders or Boris, David Cameron came out narrowly ahead on 33 per cent, two points ahead of Ed Miliband, four points ahead of Boris and 26 points ahead of Clegg. Among Conservatives, Cameron was the clear winner over Boris, by 81 per cent to 18 per cent."
Stephan Shakespeare wrote recently on this site about a YouGov poll on Boris, which found that "30 per cent of the intending voters in this sample said they would vote Conservative with Cameron in charge, and 36 per cent said they would vote Conservative with Johnson".
However, as Shakespeare himself pointed out, polls that ask how people would vote today were the party leaders different are highly speculative. His polling converges with Lord Ashcroft's in finding that Boris scores well with UKIP voters, despite his shape-shifting views on Britain's EU membership.
All in all, Boris has protean strengths, some weaknesses and a proven track record as a Conservative election winner in what is essentially a Labour city - as well as a marvellous sense of the challenges facing ever-pullulating London.
But there is no evidence that he is better placed to succeed David Cameron than Michael Gove or Theresa May or the unexpected candiate who pops up in leadership elections and usually wins. Furthermore, the timing of a Boris Commons re-entry and a post-2015 poll don't fit neatly: he remains Mayor until 2106.
And finally, the whole caboodle may never arise, since Cameron could well lead a re-formed Coalition after the next election. I end in oleaginous agreement with the proprietor: the case for Boris as leader isn't proven, and it's too early to start making it.
Now here's a dog that didn't bark in the night-time. Or rather, an MP who spoke in the day-time. David Ruffley, a senior Conservative member of the Treasury Select Committee, went on television yesterday. What did he talk about? The fragile signs of renewed growth in the economy? The fastest rise in house prices for six years? The current condition of Indonesian long bonds? No: the Bury St Edmonds MP mused aloud about what the political landscape might look like after next year's European elections. He said -
"I think next May’s euro elections might put pressure on [Cameron] to go harder because there is a lot of speculation in and around Downing Street, so I am led to believe, that UKIP might come first. Now if that happens next May there’ll be 12 months before the election and some of our colleagues in marginal seats might get a bit windy. I don’t think UKIP are going to win seats but they could split the Conservative vote if they are very strong and let Labour through in those marginal seats. But I think David Cameron has got 12 months to show that his strategy works."
The conventional wisdom is that the maximum point of danger for Cameron's leadership was this month's local elections. But Ruffley's intervention confirms that some backbench dissidents believe that replacing Cameron with a new leader before UKIP tops the poll next year would be cack-handed timing: better to act immediately after that - and let this new leader sprint for the electoral finishing line the following spring. A senior rebel has put exactly the same argument to me during the past week.
Odd that a Tory MP popped up to make the point yesterday, isn't it, over a quiet Bank Holiday weekend? Almost as if someone, somewhere, wanted to serve notice of intent. "I smell a device." "And I have 't in my nose too."
By Andrew Gimson
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What is the point of Grant Shapps? If the Chairman of the Conservative Party can do nothing else, he ought at least to be able to put fresh heart into the Tory faithful. Yet in the eight months he has been Chairman (or technically speaking, Co-Chairman with Lord Feldman, who runs the business side of the party), I cannot find a single instance of Shapps managing to do this.
It is possible he will grow into the role: possible too that he has won golden opinions of which I have not heard. But it is also possible that Shapps has been given an extraordinarily difficult job, is never going to work out how to do it, and should be replaced by someone better able to cheer the Tory troops in the two years which remain before the next election.
On Saturday 9 March, Shapps addressed the ConHome Victory 2015 Conference, which was attended by a large number of Tory activists. He was by common consent the least interesting speaker of the day. He had nothing to say, and said it badly.
There was no sense of connection between the Chairman and his audience: no feeling that party members were being taken into his confidence and having their spirits raised by being offered a glimpse of the route which together they will tread to the sunlit uplands.
Shapps spoke instead of his success as a local campaigner. “How did I win?” he asked. “I got out there and knocked on doors.” This was an insult. Pretty much everyone in the room had knocked on doors. Shapps had somehow managed to suggest, no doubt unintentionally, that if only everyone worked as hard as he did, all would be well: the corollary being that if things went wrong, it would be the poor bloody infantry’s fault.
Anyone can have an off day. I decided to canvas opinion within the party. But the first person I consulted was a shire Tory who was still fuming over something Shapps had said in January, during a discussion on Radio Four about local councillors’ allowances.
Shapps said councillors should not be paid more: an entirely defensible point of view. But the Chairman proceeded to argue that councillors are volunteers, so if they were to get paid, you would have to starting paying volunteers in every walk of life, such as “scout leaders”.
Anyone but Shapps would have seen it was unwise to compare counsellors, who are elected and look after large sums of public money, with scout leaders, no matter how highly one may think of the latter.
The shire Tory happened himself to be a local councillor, and said: “This was an object lesson in how to alienate people who work hard for you. It was stupid, crass and means he’s not a pin-up among the councillor fraternity. He just gave the impression that they [the Tory high command] don’t really want to listen. They just want to tell people what hoops to jump through. They don’t want to hear what it’s like in the front line. The view from the shires is that basically people in the metropolitan elite aren’t really interested in what’s going on elsewhere.”
Shapps finds himself dismissed as a member of the elite even though he is not metropolitan. He was born in Watford, and went to Watford Grammar School and Manchester Polytechnic before setting up a printing firm. Part of his attraction, from the point of view of the Tory leadership, must be that he is not yet another Old Etonian who went on to read PPE, or indeed anything else, at Oxford. He sounds classless, and worked with great persistence to get himself elected for Welwyn Hatfield, where he lost to the sitting Labour MP by 1,196 votes in 2001 but won by 5,946 votes in 2005 and 17,423 votes in 2010.
On arriving at Westminster, he was quick to prove his value. As one close observer puts it: “He was very, very effective in Opposition – a good attack dog who put out press releases attacking Labour all the time. As shadow housing minister he backed localism. He came out of the expenses scandal very well. He was also one of the first MPs to have his own online forum and to go on Twitter. Nothing seemed to be too small for him.”
In 2010, Shapps became Minister of State for Housing and Local Government, and Quentin Letts, of the Daily Mail, even suggested he might be a future Tory leader. Many people began to think Shapps might make a good party chairman, but in retrospect it can be seen that to give him such a prominent role before he had developed an independent political persona was perhaps unwise. The energy and humility needed to deal with small things may or may not be accompanied by an ability to see the big picture, but in Shapps’s case appear not to be.
After Margaret Thatcher died, Andrew Neil asked Shapps: “Are you a Thatcherite?” The Chairman replied: “I think I probably am.”
Neil also asked: “Are you Chairman of a Thatcherite party?” Shapps replied: “We’re a Thatcher party, but we’re also a John Major party.”
Such feeble responses do not make Tory viewers feel proud that this man is their party Chairman. A Tory lady remarked of him: “It’s not even as if Grant appeals to young people.”
In confirmation of this, a young Tory activist who is currently employed by a think tank said of Shapps: “He’s very pro-active, to the point of being annoying. Obviously he attends every event, and works very hard, but there’s no flair to it and I don’t know what his core principles are. He doesn’t inspire me. I do think he’s been over-promoted.”
A senior Tory backbencher described Shapps as “able, extremely nice, but extraordinarily inexperienced for his present role”. Tory chairmen since the Second World War have included Lord Woolton, Lord Hailsham, Rab Butler, Iain Macleod, Lord Carrington, Willie Whitelaw, Peter Thorneycroft, Cecil Parkinson, Norman Tebbit and Chris Patten. The best chairmen have already been considerable figures when they were appointed.
Another long-serving Tory backbencher was less charitable: “We don’t want Muppets being the voice of the Tory Party, and that’s what we’ve got with Grant Yapps.”
This backbencher insisted, rather unkindly, that Shapps was becoming known as Yapps because of a tendency to yap, and added that “he called himself Michael Green for several years, for reasons no one entirely understands”.
In September 2012, soon after he became Chairman, it emerged that on HowToCorp, an online marketing company Shapps set up, he had indeed called himself Michael Green.
That curious detail is, it seems to me, irrelevant to the question of whether Shapps is capable of encouraging the Tory troops to get out and trounce their opponents. But the fact is that after an eight-month trial it looks most unlikely he is.Any fair-minded observer would agree that inspiring the Tory footsoldiers is just now more difficult and more necessary than ever, given the shrinking size of the party, and the rise of UKIP. But that is why the Prime Minister should think again, and should appoint someone to the role who is already a big political figure. To leave Shapps there for the next two years would be to insult a party which already feels it has been insulted enough.
David Cameron has promised an In-Out referendum on the EU in the next Parliament. Why, then, do some of his backbenchers want a mandate referendum now, and still more of them want to write the In-Out referendum into law? There is no simple answer, but a number of different factors have come together. One is the passion that the EU has excited within the Conservative Party since Bruges. Another is fear of UKIP. Still another is the belief, common among Tory MPs, that Cameron is very unlikely to lead a majority Conservative Government after 2015. But, above all perhaps, there is, at worst, a distrust of the Prime Minister over Europe and, at best, the conviction among Tory MPs that on the issue he will follow rather than lead.
Cameron's gambit yesterday evening was crafted to ward off accusations of followership after a day in which party debate over the Baron/Bone amendment to the Queen's Speech, and over the EU itself, threatened to run out of control. The device of a Private Member's Bill is the best he can do to regain the initiative - since Nick Clegg will not concede a Government Bill, even on a free vote, and there is nothing the Prime Minister can do to master him, short of breaking up the Coalition altogether. Such a Bill is unlikely to deliver the goods, since such measures are vulnerable to being talked out. Ed Miliband's main aim will be to obscure his party's own differences on the EU, and to out-manoevre Cameron when MPs vote in the Commons - in alliance, probably, with the Liberal Democrats.
The Davis support is hardcore. When asked who should lead the Party into the next election, 14% of respondents name him. 15% plump for Boris.
But the overwhelming favourite to lead the Conservatives into the next election is...David Cameron, with over half the vote: 55% to be precise.
Apart from Davis and Boris, no other leading Tory gets out of single figures. William Hague comes the closest, at just over 5%.
Just under 1850 people responded to the survey, of whom over 800 were Conservative Party members. The figures above are taken from the latter's views.