Rishi’s ratings were already so bad, his D-Day debacle barely changed a thing

  • 12 June, 2024
  • Politics
  • Polling

Published in the Daily Mail on 12 June 2024.

Last week I wrote about the millions of uncertain voters who would determine the outcome of this election, especially those who voted Conservative in 2019 but now say they haven’t yet made their minds up or might stay at home.

And they’re still there – only 44 per cent of all voters say they’ve decided how to vote, according to my latest survey.

But the past week has certainly given them a couple more things to think about.

First was the return of Nigel Farage to the political front line, propelling his Reform UK party to within touching distance of the Conservatives in some polls.

In my survey – which looks at voters who put their chances of voting for one party at 50 or more out of 100 – we find Reform up to 15 per cent from last week’s 11 per cent, with the Conservatives down two points to 21 per cent while 43 per cent say they are most likely to vote Labour.

It’s not surprising that Farage has sent a jolt through the campaign. In an otherwise uninspiring election, many see Reform as a way of finally getting the attention they feel they have been denied.

Two-thirds of the 2019 Tories say they like what he stands for and nearly half would like to see him in a senior position in government.

At this stage, most voters think he will fail in his ambition to take over the Conservatives – even if most of those currently leaning towards Farage’s party say they would be more likely to vote for the Tory Party in future elections if it became more like Reform in terms of the things it said and the policies it promised.

Undecided voters who had previously voted Conservative were more likely than not to agree.

More generally, many wary voters see him as a troublemaker with a talent for publicity and wonder what his party stands for other than controlling immigration.

The second thing was the D-Day debacle. Rishi Sunak apologised for leaving the commemorations early and I don’t doubt that he bitterly regrets the move.

He won’t need reminding that, as well as being the wrong thing to do, the decision amounts to one of the great campaign blunders of all time.

For the people taking part in my focus groups since the weekend, the incident confirms their view of a leader who is not unpatriotic but does seem chronically out of touch with the country and its priorities.

Interestingly, however, the leadership ratings in my poll have barely twitched since last week.

This doesn’t mean that Friday’s events were unimportant. It is more ominous than that, suggesting that things were already so bad for Sunak that not even a blunder on this scale could make them worse.

A kindly observer who has worked on election campaigns (if you can imagine such a creature) might say in Sunak’s defence that, when things are going wrong, the extreme pressure can mean the protagonists no longer see the wood for the trees. Bad decisions ensue.

There is some truth to this, though it remains barely believable that no-one sounded the alarm on the retreat from Normandy.

But, after the election, it would be a mistake for the Conservatives to blame their six weeks of campaigning if, as seems now likely, they are defeated.

A well-organised campaign with the right message can make a difference, galvanising support and reinforcing doubts about opponents. But when we ask former Tories why they have drifted away, seven in ten say the party is out of touch and hasn’t delivered what it promised. A clear majority says it is untrustworthy and incompetent.

That can’t be put right in 42 days – and whatever the merits of the policies in this week’s manifesto, they are unlikely to help if people don’t believe the Tories mean them or could make them happen if they do.

Labour, meanwhile, has been trying to reassure voters that it can be trusted on its historical weaknesses including tax, immigration, and law and order.

People still have their doubts. I found only one in ten believing legal immigration would be lower after five years of Labour than it is now. People are more likely to think taxes would rise under Labour than the Tories (though majorities think tax would rise under both).

Fewer than a third think Starmer would succeed in cutting NHS waiting times, his party’s traditional territory.

Many voters now regard the prospect of a Labour government with a sort of weary inevitability.

The question is this: do former Tories who are not enamoured of Starmer or his party drag themselves to the polling station one more time to keep a Labour majority down and ensure a decent opposition?

Or will they decide to withhold their support – or transfer it to someone else – to make sure the Tories get the point?

If anything, the reaction to the week’s events suggests they are becoming more determined to do the latter.

Read this article on DailyMail.com

Related article in Daily Mail by Harriet Line.

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