The Conservative leadership election is (briefly!) down to three candidates – David Davis, Liam Fox and David Cameron – and Thursday’s Telegraph has what is likely to be the only poll between the first and second leadership ballots. It shows that David Cameron’s lead amongst party members is now overwhelming; he would easily defeat either of the other two remaining candidates. More unexpectedly, Liam Fox has now overtaken David Davis to become party members’ second choice.

Asked who they would chose as leader now that Ken Clarke has been eliminated from the race, over half of party members chose David Cameron, with Liam Fox overtaking Davis to become second favourite. The full figures, with changes from YouGov’s last poll of party members when Clarke and Rifkind were still in the race, were Cameron 59%(+20), Fox 18%(+5), Davis 15% (+1).

Over 80% of party members now want David Cameron to be one of the candidates put before them in the last round and with Liam Fox second on 58% a Cameron-Fox final round would seem to be the most popular choice. As things presently stand David Cameron would thrash either of the other candidates in the final round – members say they would vote 72%-22% in a Cameron-Davis final and 67%-27% in a Cameron-Fox final. In a Davis-Fox final round, members would currently vote for Liam Fox by 48%-39%.

Cameron has a dominant position – asked which candidate they thought would be best at attracting new members, best for party unity, best at opposing Brown and Blair in the Commons, best on the television and radio, which candidate would offer the best chance of winning the election and which candidate would make the best Prime Minister if the Tories did win, David Cameron trounced the other candidates on every count, beating Fox and Davis by over 30% in every question (differences between Fox and Davis were more subtle – members thought David Davis would be better than Fox in the Commons and in leading a united party, on all the other counts members preferred Fox).

Asked about the drugs question the overwhelming majority of party members thought politicans should have the right to refuse to answer questions about whether they took drugs at university. 13% of members said the recent insinuations about David Cameron using drugs in the past and his refusal to answer questions about it had made them less like to vote for Cameron, but an equal amount of members said it had made them more likely to vote for Cameron. In contrast, David Davis’s perceived role in the drug allegations seems to have damaged his campaign – while only 20% of members thought that the Davis campaign or its supporters were actively involved in smearing Cameron, 36% thought that David Davis conspiculously failed to distance himself from the media campaign against Cameron and 50% of members thought that the episode had done more damage to Davis than to Cameron.

Ideologically David Cameron is quite firmly identified by members as being on the left of the party. Using the “clear blue water” and “one nation” split which YouGov used in their last poll of party members, 57% saw David Cameron as a “one nation” Tory. Liam Fox and David Davis are both seen as “clear blue water” Tories. Despite this Cameron is still the most popular candidate amongst members who see themselves as “clear blue water” Tories, and they would still vote for him rather than Fox or Davis.

Assuming that the race does go to a full ballot of party members (and the BBC was suggesting on Wednesday that it might not) then there will be six weeks or so for the position to change, and the party membership have certainly shown themselves to be a volatile electorate. For the time being however David Cameron appears to have a near unassilable lead.


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