Voters see Rishi as leading a gang out for themselves

  • 27 June, 2024
  • Politics
  • Polling

Published in the Daily Mail on 27 June 2024.

A COUPLE of weeks ago I reflected here that the Conservatives could not correct in a month-long campaign what had gone wrong over several years. But what they could do, it turns out, is find a series of new and innovative ways to make things worse.

Even the Tories’ harshest critics would have to concede that Rishi Sunak doesn’t seem to have much luck. A few days ago, the PM must surely have thought things had hit rock bottom, only to be floored by a spectacular scandal which might not be his fault but is very much his problem.

Sunak is said to be furious about aides betting on the election date that they knew before anyone else. I’m sure he is. But even if it’s just a handful of bad apples parlaying their insider knowledge into a few quid at the bookies – stupid and reprehensible though that may be – it adds to a picture of a party shot through with corruption.

The obvious echoes of partygate suggest that the rules being only for the little people was not merely a Boris-era phenomenon, but an institutional problem for the Conservatives. However innocent Sunak may be in this particular case, voters still fit him into the general picture: his wife’s non-dom status and covid contracts for top Tory contacts – regularly raised in focus groups – all add to an impression of a gang just out for themselves.

All of this overrides what the Tories once hoped would save them – a belief that a recovering economy would prove that their plan was working and that we should stick to it. Following news this week that inflation was down to 2 per cent, my poll found that more than four in ten voters believed that things were indeed starting to improve – but only half of them were inclined to give the government any credit. Meanwhile, the half who thought things were no better were all too ready to give the government the blame.

The Conservatives’ new message – that people should vote for them to ensure a Labour government faces some kind of opposition – seems to be faring little better. More than half of all voters now expect a large Labour majority, up from 35% at the start of the campaign. Just under four in ten 2019 Tories say the idea of a Keir Starmer landslide makes them more inclined to stick with the Conservatives – but slightly more say this makes no difference to their decision, and for a fair chunk, the inevitability of defeat means they feel free to vote for whoever they like.

In any case, former Conservatives are divided as to whether the most effective opposition after the election will come from the Tories or from Nigel Farage and Reform UK. Nearly half of 2019 Tories say they are interested in the party’s ideas and would consider voting for them; another quarter say that even if they can’t see themselves voting Reform this time, they like the fact that they are around to challenge the status quo.

Suspicions of Labour remain, especially on taxes, debt and immigration. But in focus groups, some wavering former Tories have started to say that at least Labour will be a change and their intentions are good, even if they won’t deliver everything they promise. How much of this for real and how much these voters are merely reconciling themselves to the inevitable is hard to say. At the same time, another strand of thought is also emerging: a suspicion that after a few days the new administration will say “we’ve seen the books now and it’s even worse than we thought”, giving itself permission to be more punitive than Starmer and Rachel Reeves dare admit before July.

The lack of fiscal headroom combined with the sheer absence of enthusiasm for Labour means that a new government could quickly run into problems, or at least unpopularity. Last week my poll found solid opposition to revaluing properties for council tax, which most would see simply as a ruse for the state to grab more cash. This week I found strong and widespread opposition to Labour’s plans for housebuilding.

Only just over a quarter overall agreed that we urgently need to build more homes in Britain, even if that means building on parts of the green belt. More than six in ten – including a majority of likely Labour voters – said we need to protect the green belt even if that means we end up building fewer houses. Starmer will soon find that a big Commons majority doesn’t mean carte blanche.

My poll also found that Reeves herself is perhaps Britain’s most popular (or least unpopular) politician: 20% have a positive view of her, and only 21% a negative one. Then again, 42% say they don’t know enough about her to have a view. We’ll see whether those numbers survive her first Budget. More realistically – and perhaps surprisingly – we can say that the most popular well-known politician is Angela Rayner, who scores some way above her party leader. Both do better than all senior Tories, and well above the prime minister, who must be counting the hours until it’s finally over.

View the data tables

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