Britain’s current nuclear deterrent, the Trident system, is nearing the end of its lifespan and the govermment will soon have to decide how, and if, to replace it. Greenpeace has today published a new MORI poll, which shows the public are ambivalent at best about whether Britain should replace Trident.

Asked a straight question on whether or not Britain should develop a replacement for Trident 44% think we should, 46% think we shouldn’t. When, using a split sample, the sheer cost of developing a new nuclear system was included in the question (an estimate of £25 billion – a figure that seems to be around the top end of the price scale when it comes to alternatives to Trident) support fell to 33%, with 54% opposed.

MORI then asked people when they thought it appropriate to actually use nuclear weapons. The public were overwhelmingly against using nuclear weapons against countries that do not have nuclear weapons (5% support with 87% against), or who have nuclear weapons but are not using them (11% support with 77% against). Even if Britain were to come under nuclear attack itself, only 55% would support using nuclear weapons in response. This question used identical wording to a Gallup poll back in 1955, and showed a significant fall in support for the use of nuclear weaponry since the height of the cold war – back in 1955 only 16% of people would have opposed using the H-Bomb in response to a nuclear attack on Britain, while today 32% would oppose nuclear retailiation.

There have been new polls on the Tory leadership by both YouGov and ICM over the weekend, and David Cameron seems increasingly unbeatable. YouGov’s poll in the Telegraph showed Cameron leading Davis amongst the general public by 34% to 13%, and amongst Conservative supporters by 56% to 16%.

Asked who would make the better leader on several specific criteria, such as how they come across on the television, how they perform in the Commons, what chances they would have of winning the next election and who would make the best PM if they did, David Cameron trounced Davis on every count.

As Tony King points out in his commentary, support for Cameron must be largely image based, since the majority (61%) of the public had little idea on what Cameron’s views were in regard of levels of public spending on reform of public services. That said they were equally ignorant of what David Davis’s views were, thought the survey was likely carried out prior to David Davis’s well publicised pledges on taxation.

Meanwhile ICM’s poll for the Politics Show contacted Conservative party members to ask how they would vote in the leadership election. The sample size was only just over 200, but the actual figures were broadly inline with YouGov’s earlier poll of party members – 24% said David Davis, 76% said David Cameron.

The ballot papers for the Conservative leadership election will be sent out next Friday, and conventional wisdom is that most party members will return them almost straightaway. Unless something goes spectacularly wrong for David Cameron in the next week, or next week’s Question Time sees a major turnaround, David Cameron appears to have won.

This brings us onto the question of what happens next – YouGov also asked what voters would like to see the Conservative party do in the future. The results were quite interesting – most of the answers supported moving the party towards the centre ground, the public wanted to see the Conservative party move towards the Centre (net approval of +41), giving more help to the less well off (net approval of +64), paying more attention to the economy and public services and less to immigration (+41) and opposed promises of big tax cuts if they meant cuts to public services (net disapproval of -42). Conservative voters broadly shared these opinions.

However, some radical policies were supported by both Conservative voters and the general public – radical reform of public services ‘including privatisation’ was supported by 47% of the public, and opposed by 30%, while threatening to withdraw from the European Union was supported by 49% of the public and opposed by 29%. While public opinion does seem to favour a Conservativbe party that moves back to the centre ground, gives more help to the needy and worries less about taxes and immigration, they do seem to be receptive to radical solutions in a few specific areas.

UPDATE: I’m told there was a further ICM poll of party members, presumably with a larger sample, being carried out over the weekend. Perhaps it’ll be in tomorrow’s Guardian.

MORI’s October political monitor has also been published, and included questions on the Conservative leadership. Asked who they would most like to see as Conservative leader David Cameron was the most popular choice amongst the public. Unlike YouGov’s poll the public were given the choice of all the candidates, not just those remaining in the race, so this the first time that Cameron has overtaken Ken Clarke in a poll of the general public. Asked to chose between just Cameron and Davis Cameron is ahead by 42% to 15%.


Education Reform

On Monday afternoon Tony Blair is set to announce new government plans for secondary education and, with rather excellent timing, the free-market think tank Reform have published a new ICM poll on education.

The poll suggests that people would be supportive of an increase in choice in education. 76% of people told ICM they agreed that the way education in Britain is organised needed ‘fundemental review’, ICM then asked respondents if they would support a system where “parents should be allowed to use the government money spent on their children’s education (around £5,500 a year per child) to send their children to any school they choose, including independent schools” (a policy very similar to the Conservative policy at the last election, though the Tory version had restrictions on spending the money on independent schools that cost more than the government figure). Overall 49% of people thought this would be a good idea, while 23% thought it would be a bad idea.

The demographic breakdown of the figures revealed two interesting factors. Firstly, young people were far more positive towards the policy – amongst under 25s 63% thought it a good idea while only 15% opposed it, amongst the 25-34 age group 56% thought it a good idea and only 13% opposed it. Secondly, support for a free market reform of education doesn’t seem to be particularly partisan – support amongst Labour voters was almost identical to support amongst voters as a whole – 48% to 23%.

With Liam Fox eliminated the Tory leadership contest moves to the party membership. We’ve already seen in YouGov’s poll earlier this week that David Cameron holds a commanding lead amongst party members, but their voting decisions will obviously be influenced by how the polls suggest the voting public will react to David Davis and David Cameron.

MORI’s poll in this morning’s Sun was actually conducted on Wednesday, so the question of which of the remaining candidates the public would have preferred to see as leader is already out of date (for what it’s worth, the figures were Cameron 33%, Davis 13%, Fox 11%).

More relevant are the hypothetical voting intention questions – respondents were asked how they would vote if Gordon Brown were leader of the Labour party, Charlie Kennedy leader of the Liberal Democrats and either David Cameron or David Davis were leader of the Tory Party. The Labour lead would be 7 points under David Davis, but only 3 points under David Cameron (bear in mind that these figures are not adjusted for turnout, so aren’t comparable to MORI’s normal voting intention figures).

A large majority (69%) of people thought that David Cameron was not too young to be Prime Minister, and 74% thought that the British public would not be reluctant to vote for a Prime Minister who went to Eton.

The poll did, however, provide a useful reminder of the limits to the importance of the leader. Asked whether the identity of the Tory party leader or the party’s policies were more important in making a voting decision, only 12% said the leader, while 80% said the policies. The questions is a bit of a simplification – firstly saying that one sagely considers the parties’ policies is obviously a more ‘socially acceptable’ answer than saying one votes for the nicest chap, and equally most pollsters (not least MORI themselves) will tell you that there is a third important factor, the overall image of a party, which is itself influenced by the leader’s image and the party policies. All the same, it’s worth remembering that who the leaders of the parties are is only a small part of the story.

ICM’s new poll was also carried out prior to Liam Fox’s elimination – the questions though were all ‘head to heads’ so haven’t been rendered obsolete. In a straight choice between David Cameron and David Davis the public would prefer David Cameron by a margin of 44% to 20%, though a large (25%) proportion of people don’t know.

David Cameron leads amongst every demographic group. There is some truth in the idea that David Cameron would appeal less to voters in the North, but it is only one of degree. Cameron leads Davis by 39% to 22% in Scotland and Northern England, compared to 50% to 17% in the South.

ICM also asked ‘head to head’ questions on whether people would prefer Gordon Brown or Davis/Cameron as Prime Minister. Amongst voters as a whole there was already a significant difference – people would prefer Brown to Davis as PM by 45% to 32% and would prefer Brown to Cameron by 43% to 38% – the real contrast though was amongst ‘floating voters’, the 28% of voters who told ICM it was only ‘possible’ that they would vote Conservative at the next election. Floating voters would prefer Brown to Davis as PM by 44% to 36%, but would prefer Cameron to Brown by 48% to 33%.

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.