We now have the second month of survey results for the new Cabinet, and Michael Gove is top again. It would be hard to overstate the strength of his popularity; not only does he have a strong base who think he is doing a good job (88.5 per cent gave him a positive rating) but a large majority of that support (59.4 percentage points) is readers declaring themselves “Very Satisfied”. That’s not simply support, it’s strongly felt – and the Environment Secretary’s active campaigning on green topics isn’t doing him any harm.
While no-one else quite enjoys Govian levels of support, as the new Cabinet settles in it’s still possible to see other ministers consolidating their positions in a similar way. Penny Mordaunt’s net approval ratings started high when she was appointed in November (+54.8), climbed to +60.8 in December, went up again to +65 in January, and now she’s up in second place with a net rating of +67.1. What’s interesting is that under the surface, the quality of her support is strengthening, too; a full half of those giving her a positive rating now tick the “Very Satisfied” option, and she has joined Gove in the rare distinction of leaving more people “Very Satisfied” than simply “Fairly Satisfied”. Her response to the ongoing Oxfam/charity abuse scandal has evidently impressed readers.
Further down the table, the Prime Minister is still not in a great position but she is at least back in positive net approval territory. Interestingly, the survey took place at the start of last week, before her Mansion House speech and while Cabinet talks on the Brexit position were still underway, so she has managed to improve her standing even as the headlines talked of indecision and dithering. The Chancellor’s position has also got somewhat less bad, but he is still far and away the Cabinet minister whom the Party members responding to the survey feel least satisfied with.
Given that there are several new ministers in place, it’s understandable that a fairly sizeable proportion of respondents appear to be withholding judgement on some of them until they know them better. Ministers like Hinds and Hancock, both with pretty positive net ratings that place them at the edge of the top ten, have a clear opportunity to climb swiftly up the rankings if they manage to impress the 25-30 per cent of respondents who are currently ticking “Don’t Know” next to their names. There’s potential there, if handled correctly.
By contrast, Amber Rudd has quite the challenge to break out from a distinctly Marmite reputation – 48.1 per cent of surveyed Party members feel satisfied with her performance as Home Secretary, 50.5 per cent are dissatisfied, while only a tiny fraction say they Don’t Know either way. It isn’t impossible to escape that situation, but it will require a major effort.
Finally, while the Cabinet League Table tends to reward high-profile individuals, the scores can also turn very swiftly as events strike a particular brief. Some crises are of course unforeseeable, but it’s worth considering some of those who might yet find themselves placed under the microscope by Brexit. Julian Smith, as Chief Whip, is still a somewhat unknown quantity to many members, but has a crucial role to play in staving off disaster in terms of anti-Brexit amendments, while Baroness Evans will no doubt have to battle some determined opposition in the Lords, further down the line on the same legislation. As the question of the Northern Ireland border becomes more central to the negotiations, it will also be interesting to see if Karen Bradley’s ratings are influenced by progress (or the opposite) on that issue.