Beyond Boris Johnson: former Tory adman Michael Moszynski on what – and who – comes next
London Advertising chief exec Michael Mosyinski has got form for predicting what's coming next in UK politics. So as Boris Johnson resigns, we ask the former Conservative adman to tell us where the party goes from here and who is likely to be at its helm.
Boris Johnson will soon depart No 10, but who will be its next occupant? Pic: Number 10 / Number 10
As regular readers of The Drum will know, I have a strong record in predicting UK political outcomes. In 2010 I was a lone voice in forecasting a "Conservative majority in single figures" – the party won by eight MPs. In the Scottish Referendum I predicted the “Yes vote would be under 45%” – the result was 44.7%. For Brexit I said Vote Leave would win by 52% – the result was 51.9%.
So, who do I think will win the Conservative Party leadership campaign and become our next prime minister? The answer is probably someone who you are not currently thinking of.
Whilst I have a history of going against poll forecasts, I do use them to help me calibrate my own insights into how the public – and politicians – think and feel. The two are, believe it or not, related.
In January, in the heat of the Partygate revelations, I commissioned Yonder to do a personal poll of 2,000 UK adults. It showed that if there were a general election with Boris as leader, the party’s vote would be 17% down versus 2019. As a result, I penned a piece for the Spectator on 25 January on why the Party should remove Boris.
Two weeks ago, after the confidence vote, I commissioned another poll which showed the same result: a 17% reduction in the Conservative vote if Boris remained as leader. To put this in context, this would result in a massacre of Conservative MPs on the same scale as 1997, with 187 of them losing their jobs. The Conservative Party is nothing if not pragmatic, so it was now clear for reasons of self-preservation that Boris had to go. Although his ousting was not pretty, that is because it was a result of a growing recognition of this fact rather than as a planned coup. The ‘Pincher Affair’ was merely the casus belli.
Part of the challenge to defenestrate Boris is that the received wisdom is that cabinet members, especially if they have an eye on the leadership, should demonstrate absolute loyalty to the leader even if they are in the bunker chewing the carpet. However, as we have seen in the last 24 hours it reached the point where loyalty to the party and the country counted for more (finally).
My poll shows that due to brand pollution, the party fares no better, or even worse, if any of the most well-known cabinet members such as Michael Gove, Liz Truss, Dominic Raab or Priti Patel becomes leader. The poll torpedoes Jeremy Hunt’s ambitions as it shows, unlike Boris in 2019, that he fails to increase the Party’s electoral appeal in order to persuade MPs or the members to swallow their antipathy to him for the good of the party.
|Candidate||More likely to vote Conservative||Less likely to vote Conservative||Don't Know||Net score|
|Ben Wallace||10%|| |
|Penny Mordaunt||7%|| |
|Nadhim Zahawi||7%|| |
|Boris Johnson||18%|| |
|Michael Gove||8%|| |
|Liz Truss||10%|| |
|Jeremy Hunt||11%|| |
|Dominic Raab||10%|| |
|Priti Patel||8%|| |
What the party needs is new blood who can make a coherent case for what the Conservatives can offer the electorate. My poll shows that the least well-known potential candidates Ben Wallace, Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt are currently the ones with the greatest appeal, but others such as Nadhim Zahawi who has similar levels of ‘don’t knows’ could also be in with a strong chance. A leadership contest based on a robust debate on how Conservative policies can best address the country’s cost of living and inflation challenges could be just the way to reinvigorate the party’s tarnished brand.
Ben Wallace is doing a splendid job in Defence but lacks the rounded experience (or appetite?) for becoming prime minister. Tom Tugendhat is a great back-bencher but lacks ministerial experience. Penny Mordaunt is a Brexiter with a strong ambition for the main gig and is preparing her campaign as I write.
Rishi Sunak did well to restore some of his reputation lost over the non-dom issue by being one of the first to resign, but other polls show he now no longer commands enough public support to overcome the party’s concerns about him. In January 2022 he would have been a shoo-in.
Sajid Javid’s resignation speech in the House of Commons yesterday reminded me of the impact that Geoffrey Howe’s had on Margaret Thatcher’s fortunes, so while he was a key catalyst in fomenting Boris’s downfall, will that be enough to secure the crown?
Nadhim Zahawi has the best track record in government from his hands-on delivery of the vaccine programme, a strong back story and a clear tax-cutting economic growth agenda that will appeal to the party. The fact he is relatively unknown in the country means he can credibly argue that he can increase his appeal once the public gets to know him. Taking the job of chancellor in the midst of the coup was offset by his public call for Boris to go this morning.
So, if you were to ask me now, who I think will be the final candidates selected by MPs to go to the membership to vote on, I predict it will be between Sajid Javid, Penny Mordaunt and Nadhim Zahawi.