Boris Johnson’s pitch to Tory MPs that he is the only candidate who can take on both Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn has been challenged by a leading Tory polling guru.
Lord Robert Hayward suggested the former Foreign Secretary was too divisive to lead the Conservative Party to general election victory – and the party would face “destruction” instead.
The Tories faced “very serious losses” in their Home Counties heartlands – stretching from Surrey to Cambridgshire and Gloucestershire – if Mr Johnson became Prime Minister.
And the Tory peer poured cold water on allies’ claims of a “Boris effect” – saying that Mr Johnson’s election in his own West London seat had had no impact at all.
At a Westminster briefing, Lord Hayward described the Tory leadership frontrunner as a “classic marmite” politician.
He said that while Mr Johnson attracted Brexiteer votes – the Tories would not get elected under him if he did not pick up swing voters who were more concerned about competence in Government.
The most recent YouGov polling showed that 23% of Tory voters in 2017 thought that Mr Johnson would make a “very bad” PM.
“By definition, if you say that somebody is likely to be a very bad PM you’re not going to vote for them or that party,” he said.
Mr Johnson performed particularly poorly on trust, with respondents in one poll identifying him most strongly with the cartoon character Pinnochio, who serially lied.
“There is a distinct antipathy towards Boris,” he said.
The leadership favourite performed particularly poorly among middle class, educated voters in the Tory heartlands of the South East and Cheshire, but was likely to pick up working class Tory support in parts of Essex and Kent.
But Lord Hayward warned the Tories would face “destruction” at a general election if they failed to widen their appeal.
“You can’t have one without the other. The Tories will not get elected without both. Boris has to complete the sentence which is that you can’t do that without the middle ground as well,” he said.
“You face destruction if you can’t attract the Brexiteers, but you face destruction if you can’t get the swing voter group as well”.
He told reporters: “Boris Johnson is pitching to MPs at the moment saying I’m the one who can win. I’m saying there is another substantial part to that message. That is that you can’t stop at Brexit and win an election.
“You need Brexit voters as Tories but above and beyond that you need thswing voters that are not going to be put off and Boris hasn’t done that yet.”
Lord Hayward also poured cold water on claims of a “Boris effect” citing evidence from the last three general elections that showed his arrival as MP for Uxbridge had no positive impact overall.
He compared results from the West London seat with the neighbouring Ruislip constituency where Tory policing minister Nick Hurd is MP and found no marked difference between the two.
“There is no statistical difference in Boris arriving in Uxbridge in 2015,” he said.
“He doesn’t achieve any marked upswing and while Nick Hurd’s vote goes down marginally more than Boris’s did in 2017, but it’s not statistically significant.”
The polling expert said that while other leadership candidates would also face difficulties in leading the Tories to election victory, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was the most likely of the frontrunners to win over swing voters.