Curtice pinpoints ‘substantial challenge’ ahead as Tories scramble to appoint new leader

Red Wall voters rage at Boris Johnson ousting

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More than a dozen candidates are believed to be mulling whether to enter the race to replace Boris Johnson as leader after he announced he was quitting in the wake of his own party turning on him. Sir John, politics professor at the University of Strathclyde, said the next Tory leader would face the challenge of persuading voters they not only have a new Prime Minister, but also a Conservative Party they can trust again.

Sir John said: “The electoral challenge facing the next Conservative leader will be a substantial one. The challenge facing a new leader will be to persuade voters they do not just have a new Prime Minister but also a Conservative Party in which they can have faith once more. That could prove more difficult, not least thanks to the manner in which Boris Johnson has been brought down.

“Voters will have learnt in the last 48 hours that many a Tory MP who until this week publicly stood by Boris Johnson had in fact long harboured doubts about his suitability for high office. They may wonder whether they can have faith again in a party that, despite these doubts, stuck with Mr Johnson for so long.

“The risk now facing the party is that the drama of the last two days will become part of the country’s folk memory, in which the Conservative party comes to be associated in voters’ minds with chaos and ineffective government.”

Sir John, writing in The Telegraph, said it was perhaps not surprising some Tory MPs want to see Mr Johnson leave Number 10 sooner rather than later, adding the longer he remains the face of the party, the harder it would be for his successor to persuade voters to move on.

The polling guru said whoever leads the party next should not be someone who voters believe has a “somewhat loose” relationship with the truth or whose credibility has become suspect.

He pointed to figures showing the wider image of the Conservatives has suffered of late. The proportion of people who think the party is fit to govern has dropped from 34 percent in the autumn to 21 percent now, according to an Ipsos MORI poll.

As many as 66 percent feel the party is divided, a rise from 44 percent nine months ago.

Sir John said voters have even come to doubt the party on some of the issues which not so long ago it would have expected to score strongly.

According to YouGov, just 21 per cent now think the Tories are best placed to handle taxation, down from 33 percent a year ago.

On Brexit, the proportion who believe the party can handle it best has dropped from 38 percent to 26 percent.

Mr Johnson said in his speech announcing he was standing down that the Tories were only a handful of points behind in the polls.

But the latest YouGov/Times voting intention poll, carried out on July 6 – 7, shows Labour’s lead has grown to 11 points over the Conservatives.

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The poll puts Labour on 40 percent of the vote to the Conservatives’ 29 percent.

So far only Attorney General Suella Braverman and Tom Tugendhat, who chairs parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, have officially confirmed their wish to be the next leader.

Damian Green, the Tory MP for Ashford, revealed he was backing Mr Tugendhat, saying: “We need a clean start, a fresh start, we need to get on with resetting the Conservative Party and resetting Government more widely in this country so that it gets back to being properly run, observing the conventions, supporting the institutions that we have in this country.”

Among those considered front runners to replace Mr Johnson are ex-Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

Mr Sunak is expected to pitch himself as a “serious candidate for a serious time”, arguing he is the only candidate with integrity.

The Times’s political editor Steven Swinford said the MP for Richmond, who resigned this week in protest at Mr Johnson’s leadership, will argue he can salvage the Conservative Party’s “brand” and has the experience to handle the economic crisis.

However, latest YouGov poll put Mr Wallace as the favourite with the Defence Secretary thought to have significant support among colleagues in Westminster.

Penny Mordaunt, Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi, Steve Baker and Jeremy Hunt are among those also believed to be seriously considering a bid.

Exact rules and the timetable for the contest have yet to be made public but Conservative MPs will whittle down the hopefuls to a final two candidates.

Tory members, of which there are fewer than 200,000, will decide who will be leader and the next Prime Minister.

The Financial Times, citing MPs with knowledge of the plans, reported on Thursday that Conservative Party intends to choose a new Prime Minister by early September.

The contest comes against a backdrop of considerable uncertainty as the economy grapple with soaring inflation, high debt, low growth and the tightest squeeze on household finances in decades.

There is also growing industrial unrest with widespread strikes by rail workers. Others, including teachers and healthcare staff, are also threatening walkouts.

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