Rory Stewart tops poll for BBC leadership debate performance

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Conservative Party leadership contender Rory Stewart outside Millbank television studios in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Rory Stewart has topped a poll for the best performance in the BBC leadership debate.

Although the International Development Secretary was judged to have given the most impressive performance by the general public, Tory voters put him in third place after Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.

But one in three of all viewers (35%) believed Mr Stewart made the biggest splash in the debate, according to a YouGov poll, despite front-runner Mr Johnson making his first appearance.

Tory leadership race
Tory leadership contestants in the BBC debate with host Emily Maitlis (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

Mr Johnson impressed 21% of all viewers, putting him in second place with all viewers, followed by Jeremy Hunt with 14%.

Michael Gove mustered 9% support, Sajid Javid got 5% and the remaining 16% of the audience could not pick a candidate who outshone the others.

Chris Curtis, political research manager at YouGov, said the poll showed Mr Stewart was popular with the general public mainly because of his support among Remain voters.

He said: “Amongst the public as a whole, there are quite a lot of Remain voters and their preferred candidate is Rory Stewart – about 57% support him.

“But while Remain voters make up a large chunk of the general population, they are a small chunk of Tory voters and an even smaller chunk of Tory members.

“So it looks like Rory Stewart has done a good job of appealing to people who don’t matter in this race, unfortunately.

“People think he is charismatic and interesting but if you charismatically and interestingly say things your electorate disagrees with it will not get you very far.”

Just over one in three (34%) viewers who were Conservative voters gave Mr Johnson the top spot, one in five (20%) preferred Mr Hunt and 18% backed Mr Stewart.

Mr Curtis said higher support for Mr Johnson among Conservative voters again reflected the audience’s view on Brexit.

“The main thing that is driving the difference between support for candidates among the general public and among Tory voters is the issue of Brexit,” he said.

“Boris is the candidate who among Leave voters and the Conservative Party membership is seen as most in line with their position on Brexit.

“Whether that is leaving with no deal if we have to, or making sure the UK leaves the EU on October 31, Boris is seen as the most likely to be able to do that.”

Similar to the overall picture, some 12% of Tory voters thought Mr Gove performed best and Mr Javid again brought up the rear on 5%.

The next Conservative leader will be chosen by the 130,000 members of the Conservative Party, and not by the general public.

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