“A white male would have been given a soap box” “He’s lost his bottle” “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile”: My focus groups in Thanet and Portsmouth

  • 22 March, 2024
  • Politics

Following last month’s Transpennine tour, my latest focus groups took place in two southern seats that could be under threat from Labour if the polls stay as they are: the new seat of East Thanet in Kent, and Penny Mordaunt’s Portsmouth North. We spoke to 2019 Conservatives who put their chances of voting Tory again at less than 5 out of 10 – the people the party will need to win back if it is to recover ground before the election.

Most had noticed the row over Frank Hester’s remarks about Diane Abbott and their aftermath: “I can’t remember what he said but I remember being shocked. It was anger-making;” “We know people think that way, but to think they could say it out loud.” Many of the women in particular had clocked Abbott’s attempts to be called during the subsequent Prime Minister’s Questions: “How many times did she get up? If it had been a white male, he would have been given a soap box to stand and preach on.” A few detected more than a hint of double standards: “Diane Abbott has said racist things in the past, not least being accused of antisemitism;” “Jo Brand once said that when she heard the words Boris Johnson, the images of lamppost and rope came to mind. There was no apology from that direction;” “One of the reasons I’m still slightly sympathetic to the Tories is the lopsided way events are reported in the media.” But the prevailing view was that this was the latest example of a worrying trend: “It’s not isolated. We’re getting ourselves into a society where everyone is beginning to treat each other with disdain and distrust. There’s no respect;” “It seems like there’s no accountability for anything they do.”

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