Leading article: Cameron's dilemma is Johnson's opportunity

 

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These are difficult days for David Cameron with the economy still becalmed, the Coalition in trouble, Ed Miliband at the head of a resurgent Opposition and Tory nerves starting to fray badly.

A poll conducted by this newspaper of 1,400 Tory party members makes grim reading for the Prime Minister ahead of his summer holiday, and even worse reading for the Chancellor, George Osborne.

While none of the poll's results will cheer Mr Cameron – the majority of those polled believe that Labour will win the next election for a start – the other finding that may most trouble him is the surge in the ratings of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who by an eight-point lead is now the most popular man to lead the party once Mr Cameron steps down.

If the rest of the London Olympics proceeds as well as the opening ceremony, Mr Johnson's ratings in the Tory Party are likely to receive a further fillip, strengthening his efforts to manoeuvre himself into position as second-in-line to Mr Cameron's throne.

Interestingly, the next favourite is the party's former leader, William Hague, benefiting from what is seen as a good innings at the Foreign Office. But what is most striking in the poll is the astonishing unpopularity of Mr Cameron's closest political ally and presumed heir, Mr Osborne, who is revealed as the favourite to lead the party of a mere 2 per cent of those polled.

Apart from this implied rebuke to Mr Cameron's acuity, another problem for the Tory leader with this poll is that the results don't suggest an obvious way forward. The conventional political wisdom is that, come the autumn, Mr Cameron will succumb to pressure from the Tory backbench MPs and Tory donors to reshuffle the Government to the right. But if this poll is a barometer of grassroots feeling among the party faithful, tilting to the right, or the left, will not make much difference in terms of rekindling their enthusiasm.

Liam Fox, a notable standard bearer for the right in the party, barely scores any better than Mr Osborne. As for Mr Hague, he may have past form as a right-winger, but it's not clear that he owes his present standing to memories of his EU-bashing days. As Foreign Secretary, he hasn't sounded like a Tory "Little Englander" and has striven to sound a bipartisan note.

Mr Johnson's political constituency, meanwhile, is harder still to locate, complicating any attempt by Mr Cameron to check his steady advance. In his two mayoral campaigns in London Mr Johnson pulled in votes from various quarters, promoting himself as a personality who was far too big, lively and spontaneous to be contained by a mere party. Tacking hard to the right on some issues, like banks, or Brussels, he lurches leftwards on others, such as immigration and gay rights, as well he might, being the mayor of multicultural, gay-friendly metropolis. But this latter point is interesting because while right-wing Tory MPs often maintain that Tories on the doorstep are repelled by the promotion of socially liberal issues, it sounds from this poll as if it all depends on who is doing the talking

While Mr Cameron spends the summer weighing up what to do with the Mayor, the other big question is what to do with the Chancellor. If he shuffles Mr Osborne aside in the autumn, the risk is that he will look as if he is a leader who panics when the going gets tough. But there is a fine line between appearing resolute and looking plain obdurate, and it may prove be hard to keep Mr Osborne as Chancellor for much longer unless, of course, his poll ratings stage a miraculous recovery. That looks unlikely unless the economy also recovers beforehand, later in the year.

Leader One

These are difficult days for David Cameron with the economy still becalmed, the Coalition in trouble, Ed Miliband at the head of a resurgent Opposition and Tory nerves starting to fray badly. A poll conducted by this newspaper of 1,400 Tory party members makes grim reading for the Prime Minister ahead of his summer holiday, and even worse reading for the Chancellor, George Osborne.

While none of the poll's results will cheer Mr Cameron – the majority of those polled believe that Labour will win the next election for a start – the other finding that may most trouble him is the surge in the ratings of the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who by an eight-point lead is now the most popular man to lead the party once Mr Cameron steps down. If the rest of the London Olympics proceeds as well as the opening ceremony, Mr Johnson's position within the Tory Party is likely to receive a further fillip, strengthening his unofficial but obvious efforts to manoeuvre himself into position as second-in-line to Mr Cameron's throne.

Interestingly, the next favourite is the party's former leader, William Hague, benefiting from what is seen as a good innings at the Foreign Office. But what is most striking in the poll is the astonishing unpopularity of Mr Cameron's closest political ally and presumed heir, Mr Osborne, who is revealed as the favourite to lead the party of a mere 2 per cent of those polled.

Apart from this implied rebuke to Mr Cameron's acuity, another problem for the Tory leader with this poll is that the results don't suggest an obvious way forward. The conventional political wisdom is that, come the autumn, Mr Cameron will succumb to pressure from the Tory backbench MPs and Tory donors to reshuffle the Government to the right. But if this poll is a barometer of grassroots feeling among the party faithful, tilting to the right, or even to the left, will not make much difference in terms of rekindling their enthusiasm. Liam Fox, a notable standard bearer for the right in the party, barely scores any better than Mr Osborne. As for Mr Hague, he may have past form as a right-winger, but it's not clear that he owes his present standing to memories of his EU-bashing days. As Foreign Secretary, he hasn't sounded like a Tory "Little Englander" and has striven to sound a bipartisan note.

Mr John's political constituency, meanwhile, is harder still to locate, complicating any attempt by Mr Cameron to check his steady advance. In his two mayoral campaigns in London Mr Johnson pulled in votes from various quarters, promoting himself as a personality who was far too big, lively and spontaneous to be contained by a mere party. Tacking hard to the right on some issues, like banks, or Brussels, he lurches leftwards on others, such as immigration and gay rights, as well he might, being the mayor of multicultural, gay-friendly metropolis. But this latter point is interesting because while right-wing Tory MPs often maintain that Tories on the doorstep are repelled by the promotion of socially liberal issues, it sounds from this poll as if it all depends on who is doing the talking

While Mr Cameron spends the summer weighing up what to do with the Mayor, the other big question is what to do with the Chancellor. If he shuffles Mr Osborne aside in the autumn, the risk is that he will look as if he is a leader who panics when the going gets tough. But there is a fine line between appearing resolute and looking plain obdurate, and it will be hard to keep Mr Osborne as Chancellor for much longer unless, of course, his poll ratings stage a miraculous recovery, which looks unlikely unless the economy also recovers beforehand, later in the year.

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