Liz Truss now leads Rishi Sunak in the Tory leadership race by a devastating 34 points, according to a new poll of Conservative members who will ultimately choose the next prime minister.
Despite the ex-chancellor having secured the backing of significantly more Tory MPs in the early stages of the contest, the deciding ballots are being sent out this week to the more staunchly right-wing party faithful, who have long favoured the foreign secretary.
New polling by YouGov now suggests that 60 per cent of Tory members intend to choose Ms Truss to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister – compared to just 26 per cent who want Mr Sunak in Downing Street.
The polling, conducted for The Times between 29 July and 2 August – during which period an initial two of 12 planned leadership hustings have been held in Leeds and Exeter – indicates that the foreign secretary has extended her lead significantly in recent days.
YouGov found that support for Ms Truss has increased by 11 per cent since a previous poll of party members, carried out as third-place rival Penny Mordaunt was eliminated and the pair reached the final stage of the contest. Mr Sunak dropped five points over the same period.
The results also suggest the foreign secretary has been able to sway previously undecided members and those who had formerly intended not to vote at all – with those figures falling from 15 to 11 per cent and 6 to 2 per cent respectively since YouGov’s last poll.
However, the fieldwork was carried out largely prior to the first major misstep of Ms Truss’s campaign, which came on Tuesday in the form of an embarrassing U-turn on a pledge to cut public sector pay for workers outside of London – just 12 hours after it was announced.
Outcome of leadership race is unclear due to ‘fair number’ of undecided voters, says Tory peer
The foreign secretary’s campaign had touted £8.8bn of potential savings if her plans for regional pay boards were extended beyond the civil service to “all public sector workers”.
But the plans were immediately lambasted by Conservative colleagues as “levelling down not up”, with influential Tory mayor Ben Houchen calling it “absolutely bonkers” and a “ticking time bomb” which could have cost the party the next general election.
The Tees Valley mayor and former health secretary Matt Hancock – both Sunak supporters – were among various Tories to liken the failed policy pledge to the “dementia tax” fiasco deemed partly responsible for Theresa May’s failure to secure a majority at the 2017 general election.
Tory former chief whip Mark Harper went further in claiming that late Conservative titan Margaret Thatcher “would be livid” over the £8.8bn hole left in Ms Truss’s plans after the U-turn, and urged the foreign secretary to “stop blaming journalists” after she sought to claim she had been “misrepresented” in entirely accurate reports of her press release on the policy.
YouGov’s findings also ran in contrast to mysterious polling – subject to much debate on Tuesday – which suggested Mr Sunak’s fortunes could be improving.
The survey of just over 800 Tory members, carried out by Italian firm Techne between 19 and 27 July, found the ex-chancellor to be just six points behind Ms Truss, at 47 and 53 per cent respectively, when excluding respondents who said they “don’t know” who to vote for.
YouGov’s polling also came as Mr Sunak sought to reposition himself in a last-ditch bid to appeal to the instincts of Tory members and avoid a rout, using Exeter’s hustings on Monday night to repeatedly declare himself a “radical” and performing something of a U-turn himself with a vow to cut income tax by 4 per cent by the end of the next parliament.
However, it was Ms Truss who secured perhaps the loudest cheers of approval from the Tory audience on Monday night, as she risked a political row with Holyrood – and support for the Union – when she described Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon as an “attention-seeker” who should be ignored.