The Westminster rumour mill is in overdrive today on the question of whether Rishi Sunak will be Boris Johnson’s successor in No. 10. It’s not that there’s a job vacancy. Instead, the first ConservativeHome poll on who Tory members would like to be the party’s next leader has put Sunak out on top, with International Trade secretary Liz Truss in second and Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt a close third. The poll isn’t exactly helpful timing for the Chancellor. Given the weekend papers were filled with stories of Sunak calling on Johnson to relax travel rules, anything that fuels talk of leadership manoeuvres is problematic for No. 11.
However, the poll that ought to worry the Prime Minister most doesn’t relate to who will eventually replace him. Instead, it’s the website’s ‘Cabinet League Table’ in which Johnson has dropped 36 points to a net satisfaction rating of three points. Below Johnson on the league table are Robert Jenrick, Amanda Milling and Gavin Williamson. Johnson’s score is his third-lowest since March 2020 and comes as the gap between the Tories and Labour appears to be narrowing in a series of national polls.
The most popular theory among Tory MPs is that the vaccine bounce brought by the successful jab rollout is over and normal politics is returning. There had been a hope in government that rather than mark the end of the bounce, so-called ‘freedom day’ would be the peak. Instead, the lifting of all restrictions has brought with it new problems for Johnson as both MPs and party supporters learn that the promised ‘freedom’ isn’t so free after all. Foreign travel is an area where this is particularly acute — just look at how much certain ministers and Tory backbenchers are lobbying No. 10 for an easing of travel rules.