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Boris Johnson emerges as grassroots' early favourite to be next Tory leader

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2012-07-28 at 15.22.37In the latest ConHome opinion poll we asked* about the next Tory leader and who party members would like it to be. Half want David Cameron to be leader at the next election. Once Mr Cameron has stepped aside, however, Boris Johnson emerges as the party grassroots' favoured successor. Nearly a third would like the Mayor of London to take over the Tory leadership. He has the advantage that in any leadership race the two other people most rated by party members - William Hague and Michael Gove - probably don't and won't seek the crown. Support for the man who was once seen as Boris Johnson's obvious rival, George Osborne, has plummeted. Only 2% would like to see the Chancellor succeed David Cameron.

On the more traditional Right of the party the poll also finds a healthy showing for David Davis but little support for Liam Fox.

Who would you like to lead the Conservative Party at the next election?

  • David Cameron 49%
  • Boris Johnson 18%
  • William Hague 12%
  • David Davis 10%
  • Michael Gove 7%
  • Liam Fox 2%
  • Philip Hammond 1%
  • Theresa May 0.5%
  • George Osborne 0%

After David Cameron is no longer Conservative leader please say who you'd like to lead the Conservative Party...?

  • Boris Johnson 32%
  • William Hague 24%
  • Michael Gove 19%
  • David Davis 12%
  • Philip Hammond 7%
  • Liam Fox 3%
  • Theresa May 2%
  • George Osborne 2%

There is more on these survey results in The Independent.

In today's Times (£) I offer a principal reason why Boris Johnson is so popular:

"He is a Eurosceptic who doesn’t just love his country but loves its people too, whatever their politics, colour, religion or sexuality. David Cameron is comfortable with modern Britain too, but, to adapt one of Mr Johnson’s own expressions, Boris zoinks off the Geiger counter of positivity. He hugs the nation and smothers it with rhetorical kisses."

I also argue that he possesses the wisdom to have identified the things that Tories can change about modern Britain and the things that we cannot. On strike laws, the tax burden, police numbers, grammar schools and so on he's a traditional all blue Tory but he's also so much more than that. He's supported an amnesty for immigrants, gay rights, a "living wage" for London's low-paid and Olympics-sized state investment in infrastructure. Whatever his personal future he can teach the Conservatives a lot about getting the right attitude to modern Britain and to the state (also read David Willetts on that issue).

I can't say I'm as enthusiastic about Boris Johnson as Toby Young was in yesterday's Sun but neither do I share the negativity of Simon Heffer in Saturday's Daily Mail. Mr Heffer (who attacked Boris on the eve of his first election battle with Ken Livingstone) argued that London's Mayor lacks "seriousness of mind, and the dedication to public service — rather than self-service — expected of a true leader."

Boris' three big barriers to becoming Tory leader remain the same whatever the Tory grassroots might think of him. Tory MPs still wonder if he's serious enough. The stuff that works at a Hyde Park rally does not work at the Commons dispatch box. Second, what would he actually do if he became Tory leader or Prime Minister? He has no agenda. He has postures not policies. That could change but at the moment the personality is too much of the offering. That's fine for being Mayor but not for being PM. Third, how does he get into parliament any time soon without breaking his pledge to London to serve a full second term?

Cameron's position is not as weak as some think. We are at what Downing Street hopes is one of the lowest points of the cycle. There's good reason to think they could be very wrong about that but it's true that Cameron is still preferred as 'best PM' to Miliband and the Tories are still more trusted on the economy (albeit only slightly). If the economy improves those advantages will too.

* 1,419 respondents from 23rd to 25th July.


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