Since our panel was last asked this question in August, Liz Truss has had rather a good press, and Rishi Sunak quite a bad one, at least in the kind of media outlets that its members are likely to read.
Commentary in the centre-right press has praised the former’s vision of lower taxes, and criticised the latter’s plan to deliver higher ones – which Sunak stuck to in his October budget despite a £35 billion windfall.
I would therefore have expected Truss’s lead (she was second in August with 12 per cent to Sunak 31 per cent) to be larger. Why isn’t it? Perhaps for one or both of the first two reasons below. Or then a third.
First, because some members of the panel don’t believe that a Truss leadership would necessarily deliver lower taxes, or distrust her Remain past, or view her as an unproven quality as a holder of a great office of state.
Second, because more members of the panel than one might expect have clocked that Sunak did deliver some lower taxes in the Budget, or remember that he backed Leave, or like his reported scepticism about Covid restrictions.
Third, that the prism through which I look is distorted; that both Truss and Sunak are credible potential future leaders, and so one shouldn’t be surprised if support divides more or less evenly between them.
Support, that is, among roughly two in five members of the panel – a sizeable chunk of it, but not by any means a majority.
That said, no other potential candidate scores above ten per cent. This time round, we chucked in Jeremy Hunt, Kemi Badenoch and Anne-Marie Trevelyan to see what would happen.
The answer, frankly, is not much. It may be worth noting however that Penny Mordaunt, who is neither a Cabinet Minister nor a prominent backbencher, remains third.
Perhaps next time round we should run a forced choice question between Truss and Sunak, and see what it produces.
It may be that Boris Johnson survives to contest the next general election as Conservative leader, and that the eventual choice put to the membership in a leadership contest is very different.
It could also be that he doesn’t, but that either Truss, Sunak or neither are put to Party members in the final ballot – because Conservative MPs have forwarded the names of one or even two other candidates.
Finally, responses to the Christmas survey tend to be lower each year, so this sample is slightly on the small side: a cautionary note.
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Many apologies to our readers for not presenting an option of naming others that actually allowed this to be done.
In this case, it will have had next to no bearing on the result – since the “Other” five per cent here will not, on past experience and any reasonable likelihood, have named one candidate only or even predominately. And five per cent is not enough to justify comment had it done so.
Where the percentage in response to other questions is significantly bigger – in one case it was over 50 per cent – we won’t publish the responses formally, though we will list in a footnote of this type in a future ToryDiary in this series during the days ahead.
There is no point in dignifying an item with an entry of its own if the majority of respondents are unhappy with it.