Friday, March 22, 2024

If Sunak falls, who will replace him?

I said in the last post that if the opinion polls spook Tory MPs enough to install a fourth Prime Minister in a single parliament, the replacement would presumably be Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat or perhaps Kemi Badenoch.  But at least according to the betting that's wrong, with Tugendhat still rated as having less of a chance of being the next Tory leader than Nigel Farage - even though Farage is currently a member of another party and might even be about to become the leader of that party.

Next Conservative leader betting:

Kemi Badenoch 4.5
Penny Mordaunt 5.7
Suella Braverman 9.6
James Cleverly 10.5
Priti Patel 15
David Cameron 20
Nigel Farage 27
Boris Johnson 28
Tom Tugendhat 34

Remember this is the betting for the next Tory leader regardless of whether the vacancy occurs before or after the election, so for that reason it may make sense that Badenoch is clinging on to her position as favourite.  The big advantage Mordaunt and Tugendhat would have in a pre-election contest is that Tory MPs would be in survival mode, and would be looking for the stop-gap leader who is most likely to connect with the public and limit the damage.  But after the election, that advantage would disappear, and with years of opposition facing them, the Tories might well revert to ideological type.  

As far as I know, the leadership rules remain unchanged, so it's not hard to imagine Suella Braverman winning a post-election contest.  If she could somehow sneak into the top two in the MPs' ballot, she would probably storm to victory among the members on a populist pitch.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Tories on the brink of being pushed into third place by Reform UK, says bombshell YouGov poll

Apologies for the radio silence over the last few days, but rest assured I haven't been completely idle - I was working on my iScot column for next month, and there was also Alba committee stuff going on.  Today brings word of an extraordinary opinion poll that must make the Tories wonder why they even bothered to replace Liz Truss...

GB-wide voting intentions (YouGov / The Times, 19th-20th March 2024):

Labour 44% (-)
Conservatives 19% (-1)
Reform UK 15% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 9% (-)
Greens 8% (+1)
SNP 3% (-)
Plaid Cymru 1% (-)

Scottish subsample: SNP 35%, Labour 33%, Conservatives 16%, Greens 6%, Liberal Democrats 6%, Reform UK 4%

In other circumstances we might look at these numbers and think it's still fanciful that Reform UK could overtake the Tories - much more likely, we would think, that the more traditional party will re-establish itself when polling day comes into view.  But what makes this situation different is the chance of a Nigel Farage comeback.  If Reform UK are only four points behind the Tories without him as leader, where will they be if and when he's back in harness? This is a man, remember, who has led two different political parties to outright first place in two successive European elections, and also took UKIP to third place in the popular vote in the 2015 general election.

But whether second place in the popular vote for Reform UK would make the election more interesting or less interesting is difficult to say, because first-past-the-post ensures that the threshold for the party to win more than a tiny handful of seats is extremely high.  So in terms of seats, the election could simply be turned into an even more boring triumphal procession for Starmer.

And there's essentially no chance of Reform UK using second place in the polls (if they get there) as a springboard for greater things.  We know from the pre-Brexit period that their natural ceiling of support is somewhere in the mid-20s - that was enough to get them into the outright lead in a handful of polls in 2019, but only because the division of support between other parties was so unusual at the time (incredibly, the Liberal Democrats were in second place in some of those polls).  25% in the polls right now would still leave them light-years behind Labour.  

An achievement they might notch up, though, is to become the indirect cause of Rishi Sunak's demise. Tory MPs who are worried about making themselves look ridiculous by installing a fourth Prime Minister within a single parliament (presumably it would be Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat or perhaps Kemi Badenoch) would start to think they have nothing left to lose if third place is staring them in the face.

There's only limited comfort for the SNP in their narrow lead in the Scottish subsample, because Labour have led other recent YouGov subsamples and thus an average of the last few would show the SNP trailing.