Set aside the scrap between Boris and Ken. Because if our poll is right, MPs will soon be buzzing about Boris v George.
The big stories over recent weeks have been a gaffe-free (so far) campaign by a maverick but distinctly Tory candidate for London Mayor, and the shipwreck of George Osborne’s third Budget, which seemed almost anti-Conservative to some MPs, with its attack on wealthy philanthropists, grannies and Cornish pasties.
Unluckily, for the Chancellor, his most damaging decisions have all coincided with Boris’s rising stock. If there is a Johnson victory on May 3, nothing will stop Tory MPs gossiping about a topic that usually kept back for the silly season: Who will take over as Conservative leader when David Cameron stands down in, say, 2017?
Our latest YouGov poll contains plenty of ammunition for the pro-Boris camp. He is seen by over a third as the candidate for the rich, yet stands a clear six points ahead of Ken Livingstone. Clearly, siding with wealth creators is not a bad electoral tactic. Note too the irony that Labour has been attacking Boris's £250k part-time earnings as a columnist in the belief that voters would be outraged. Far from it: Londoners at least seem relaxed about people who are filthy rich and stick up for other rich people.
Boris is 10 points more popular than the Conservatives are in London, even though Labour is gaining on the assembly, which suggests his brand has broader appeal than the more cautious Cameron/Osborne. He's also miles ahead among women.
It would be hard for Johnson to stop speculation even if he wanted to - and there is little sign that he wants to. In the past year he has denounced the 50p rate, defended the City, attacked Ken Clarke’s sentencing plans, called for a referendum on Europe and attacked housing benefit cuts as “ethnic cleansing”. Some of these positions were clearly designed for his City Hall battle - but others looked like markers with the Tory Right.
Ask Tory ministers who will succeed Cameron and most will instantly name Osborne. But take a straw poll of backbenchers, a more right wing group, and you find few certainties and a lot of anxiety about Conservative values and policies, plus real anger about the Budget.
If Boris Johnson wins he will be the most successful Conservative in Britain today, with a mandate from the biggest British electorate outside a general election. Cameron and Osborne have yet to win a general election outright. The case for Boris is that he looks like a winner.
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