“It’s hardly the Profumo affair” “A gaffe, but it’s probably true” “All hell’s breaking loose and the chef is drunk”: My focus groups in Godalming and Taunton

  • 26 April, 2024
  • Politics
  • Polling

You know politics is changing when your tour of competitive parliamentary seats takes you to Godalming. In 2015, Jeremy Hunt held South West Surrey with a majority of more than 28,000, but given the Tories’ position in the polls the re-drawn constituency of Godalming and Ash is considered a prime Lib Dem target next time round. Our other destination, the new seat of Taunton and Wellington, is also firmly on the battleground.

Political issues that had crossed our focus groups’ radar recently included Rwanda, the Post Office, mental health, social care, the water industry and sewage leaks, teachers’ and doctors’ strikes, and the aftermath of pandemic (“PPE and covid – why aren’t these people in prison?”). Several had also noticed and approved of government plans to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP (“It’s not an either-or, you’ve got to have deterrence. It’s a necessity.”)

Unusually, participants in both locations spontaneously mentioned a Labour policy that had caught their eye. “Labour want to put 20% VAT on school fees for private schools, and that’s where I work. Although my children are state educated, that might affect my job”; “I’ve got three children, one of whom we pay for. So if Labour get in, the fees will be upped by 20% and as a public sector worker I don’t think we’ll be better off”; “The school in our town was in Ofsted special measures so I forked out to educate my daughter as I wanted to give her the best opportunity I possibly can. So it smacks a bit of the politics of envy. The people it will affect most of all are the ones who are really stretching to be able to cover those fees. The people with plenty of money won’t bat an eyelid. It’s levelling down rather than up”; “We’ve got friends who would have to take their boys out. Lots of those families will have to go back into the state sector and it will be swamped. It’s a huge issue because they haven’t got enough money as it is.”

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