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No obvious alternative to Sunak as PM, poll finds after plot to oust him revealed

Survey shows 2019 Tory voters unimpressed by options, as Penny Mordaunt defends PM as ‘best of Britain’

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Friday 26 January 2024 03:25 GMT
No one likes the guy shouting ‘iceberg’, says Tory rebel Simon Clarke

There are “no obvious alternatives” to replace Rishi Sunak as Tory leader in an effort to win back voters who have deserted the party, a new poll has shown.

The striking survey comes after a former Sunak adviser at No 10 was revealed to be working with a group of Tory rebels in a plot to oust the prime minister.

Will Dry – reported to be working with a small cabal of ex-advisers and around 10 right-wing MPs – said the Tories were heading “for the most almighty of defeats” unless Mr Sunak was replaced.

Mr Sunak’s leadership came under renewed speculation this week when Sir Simon Clarke, a senior ally of former PM Liz Truss, called for him to go so the party avoids a “massacre” at the next election.

But a poll by Ipsos UK suggests there are few compelling alternatives to Mr Sunak in the eyes of 2019 Tory voters, with the prime minister enjoying a higher favourability rating than the rest of his front bench.

Some 42 per cent of Tory voters at the last election said they had a favourable view of Mr Sunak, with chancellor Jeremy Hunt trailing on 38 per cent and home secretary James Cleverly on 28 per cent.

The PM’s net favourability rating of +13 was also much higher than those of his chancellor and home secretary, on +7 and +2 respectively.

Rishi Sunak has the same kind of approval ratings as Boris Johnson (Getty Images)

There was little difference between Mr Sunak and possible candidates from outside the parliamentary party. Former PM Boris Johnson had a favourability rating among 2019 Tory voters of 43 per cent, but at 34 per cent his unfavourability rating was higher than that of Mr Sunak.

Reform UK’s honorary president Nigel Farage – suggested by some as a possible future Conservative leader – was also virtually neck-and-neck with Mr Sunak in terms of popularity.

The Brexiteer was viewed favourably by 43 per cent of 2019 Conservatives, only one point more than Mr Sunak, and was viewed unfavourably by 29 per cent, tied with the PM.

Keiran Pedley, director of politics at Ipsos, said leadership speculation “is to be expected” given the Tories’ dire ratings and the fact that a majority of Britons have unfavourable views towards Mr Sunak.

“However, it is unclear who would do a better job. No obvious alternative stands out amongst 2019 Conservative voters so far.”

He added: “Plus, given at least half of Britons have held unfavourable opinions towards the Conservative Party since early 2022, it’s not a given that a new leader will improve the party brand any time soon.”

Commons leader Penny Mordaunt defended Mr Sunak in the Commons on Thursday, after her Labour shadow Lucy Powell raised the scathing comments made by ex-adviser Will Dry about the electoral disaster faced by the Tories under the current leader.

Ms Mordaunt – herself one of the favourites to succeed Mr Sunak – claimed that he had chosen a “life in public service representing God’s own country” despite having “many career options”. She said he “represents the best of Great Britain”.

Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt is a favourite to succeed Sunak (PA Wire)

It emerged that ex-Sunak adviser Mr Dry helped develop questions for the YouGov megapoll – which predicted a landslide Labour victory – published in The Telegraph last week.

The polling was spearheaded by Conservative peer and leading Sunak critic David Frost, with the estimated £70,000 cost covered by the shadowy Conservative Britain Alliance group.

The rebel group is based in central London and is rumoured to be working with around 10 Tory MPs, including ex-home secretary Suella Braverman, according to The Times.

The British Polling Council (BPC) is now examining the controversial YouGov poll used by the anti-Sunak plotters. Nick Moon, of the BPC, said: “They’ve said the client was the Conservative Britain Alliance. We’re just making sure that they were formally hired by this organisation.”

A YouGov spokesperson said: “Over the past week, YouGov has sought guidance from the BPC and received assurances that we have followed the rules.”

On Thursday, a GB News report suggested that some Tory rebels believe Ms Mordaunt is best-placed to replace the prime minister.

A rebel insider told the outlet that if Mr Sunak was replaced, the new leader should come up with a “100-day contract with Britain”, followed by a general election within three to four months.

Meanwhile, a new YouGov survey showed that Reform have climbed to their highest-ever level of backing at 13 per cent – as support for Mr Sunak continues to get squeezed.

Leader Richard Tice said his party was “closing in” on the Tories – since they are just seven points behind Mr Sunak’s party on 20 per cent.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party is an incredible 34 points ahead of Mr Sunak’s party in 150 target constituencies, a separate YouGov poll for the Labour-aligned Fabian Society found.

The Ipsos poll, which surveyed just over 1,000 British adults between 12 and 14 January, found that around a fifth of 2019 Tory voters now said they were likely to consider voting for Labour. Some 28 per cent said they would consider voting for Reform.

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