Conservative MP Liam Fox has surged into poll position as Tory activists’ preference to be the party’s next leader.
The former defence secretary came top of the ConservativeHome members’ panel survey for the first time in February.
The popular Tory website has been surveying its members’ panel for their preference for next leader since shortly after David Cameron confirmed he would step down before the next election.
Dr Fox, who is from the hard, eurosceptic right wing of his party, has surged from fifth place in December 2015 to first place in the latest of the monthly straw polls.
A strong supporter of British military intervention and Britain’s alliance with the US, the MP is a staunch eurosceptic, has called for “huge restrictions” on abortion, voted against same-sex marriage, and called for the end to ring-fenced funding of the “wasteful” NHS.
He now narrowly leads the pack on a split field – on 20.89 per cent just ahead of Theresa May, who is on 20.6 per cent of the vote.
Following up behind is Boris Johnson, who is on 18.6 per cent, George Osborne on 14.9 per cent and Sajid Javid on 14.02 per cent.
“The direction of events is clear … those members associated with Brexit – such as Chris Grayling and Priti Patel – are seeing their ratings rise sharply if their previous standing in it was relatively low,” wrote Paul Goodman, the website’s editor.
The website said the survey had been conducted at the end of January and before the result of David Cameron’s EU negotiations had become known.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
The adverse reaction from eurosceptics to the deal could further boost the fortunes of eurosceptic MPs in in the next survey, due this time next month.
Dr Fox himself described the draft deal offered to Mr Cameron by the European Council president Donald Tusk as a “very limited set of demands” which had been “watered down by the EU in every area”.
“The British people want to take back control and end the supremacy of EU law over our economy, our borders and our Parliament,” he said in a statement at the time.
“None of these changes even come close to the fundamental changes promised to the public. We are being asked to risk staying in the EU based on the back of empty promises from the EU that are not even backed up in Treaty.
“The only safe option is to Vote Leave.”
Dr Fox unsuccessfully stood for Tory leadership in 2005. He was eliminated in the second round of voting amongst Tory MPs and came third to Mr Cameron and David Davis.
He resigned as Defence Secretary in 2011 over allegations he had given a close lobbyist friend access to the Ministry of Defence.