Dire warning for ‘tainted’ Tories as bombshell polling reveals Sir Keir Starmer is ahead of Rishi Sunak on 11 out of 12 key issues – including cost of living, NHS, immigration and Brexit
- New polling reveals size of mountain PM must climb to win next General Election
- Voters rate Labour 11/12 on issues such as cost of living and NHS ahead of Tory
- Only 7% of respondents described conservative party ‘competent and capable’
- The lack of poll ‘bounce’ from Sunak’s victory has led to fears of a mass exodus
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Sir Keir Starmer is ranked ahead of Rishi Sunak in nearly all areas, according to bombshell polling that reveals the size of the mountain the Prime Minister must climb to win the next General Election.
Analysis by former Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft found that out of 12 different issues – such as the cost of living, the NHS, and Brexit – voters rate Sir Keir’s Labour ahead of Mr Sunak’s Conservatives on 11, including such traditionally strong Tory areas as immigration. The Tories are rated more highly on only one: national security and defence.
Following the exclusive research, given to The Mail on Sunday, Lord Ashcroft concludes that ‘the Conservative brand is in as bad a state as I have seen in all my years of polling’, with just seven per cent of respondents describing the party as ‘competent and capable’ – traditionally a Tory strength.
Sir Keir Starmer is ranked ahead of Rishi Sunak in nearly all areas, according to bombshell polling that reveals the size of the mountain the Prime Minister must climb to win the next General Election
Although Mr Sunak and Sir Keir are closely matched in terms of personal ratings, the research suggests that the mayhem of Liz Truss’s short-lived Premiership – and its market-crashing Budget – has wrecked ‘what remained of the Tory reputation for financial competence’
Although Mr Sunak and Sir Keir are closely matched in terms of personal ratings, the research suggests that the mayhem of Liz Truss’s short-lived Premiership – and its market-crashing Budget – has wrecked ‘what remained of the Tory reputation for financial competence’.
The polling is likely to deepen the sense of alarm among Tory MPs worried about keeping their seats at the next Election in the face of surveys that consistently put Labour more than 20 points ahead. The lack of a poll ‘bounce’ from Mr Sunak’s leadership victory and discontent over Jeremy Hunt’s tax-raising Autumn Statement have led to fears at Tory HQ of a mass exodus of MPs seeking a new career outside Parliament.
Focus groups run by Lord Ashcroft give credit to Mr Sunak’s ‘authority’ and his warnings about the risks of the Truss experiment, but question his grip on MPs.
One respondent said: ‘Everything he said would go wrong with Truss actually happened, but no one listened to him. It doesn’t really matter that he’s the best person for the job – the party is so broken that he’s not really able to do it.’ Others referred to Mr Sunak’s disputed reputation for ‘sticking the knife in Boris Johnson’.
Voters were not won over by Mr Sunak’s strategy of blaming the after-effects of Covid or the war in Ukraine for the country’s economic problems.
As for who would ‘do a better job running the British economy’, more chose Sir Keir and his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves than Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt.
When those polled were given the names of 17 politicians from all parties and asked whether they felt ‘positively’ or ‘negatively’ about them, Sir Keir came top.
Focus groups run by Lord Ashcroft give credit to Mr Sunak’s ‘authority’ and his warnings about the risks of the Truss experiment, but question his grip on MPs
Home Secretary Suella Braverman ranked 16th, below Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey and Labour’s Ed Miliband.
As a party, the Conservatives ranked behind Labour, the Green Party, the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru.
Only 12 per cent of those polled reckoned that the Sunak Government would be successful at dealing with the issue of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats, while just 24 per cent thought it could cut NHS waiting lists. When voters were offered the choice of a Labour Government with Keir Starmer as PM, and a Conservative Government with Rishi Sunak as PM, Sir Keir won by 57 to 43.
The most chosen word for Mr Sunak in focus groups was ‘rich’, while for Sir Keir it was ‘boring’. Others for Mr Sunak were ‘competent’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘backstabber’, while for Sir Keir, they included ‘calm’, ‘honest’ and ‘weak’.
Lord Ashcroft says: ‘Sunak is up against John Major’s 1997 problem – a governing party that looked so exhausted, tainted and ill-disciplined that even a strongly recovering economy could not stave off defeat at the hands of a newly detoxified Labour opposition.’ With a nod to the World Cup, he claims that ‘in footballing terms, the Conservatives find themselves three goals down with the clock ticking’, although bringing Mr Sunak on as ‘a late substitution seems to have put the Tories back in the game and gives a glimmer of hope for extra time’.
ln total, 5,210 adults, weighted to represent the British population, were polled online between October 8 and November 4. The full data is at LordAshcroftPolls.com.
LORD ASHCROFT: In all my years of polling, I’ve never seen the Tory brand in such a bad state
Ask a group of people who have previously voted Tory about what they felt when they heard Rishi Sunak was to become Prime Minister and the chances are someone will say ‘relief’.
There are plenty of doubts – about his ability to empathise with voters given his family’s wealth, his role in Boris Johnson’s downfall, and some of the Covid bailouts he unveiled as Chancellor – but many welcome the return of some sanity to politics and sense to the public finances.
Yet in footballing terms, the Conservatives find themselves three goals down with the clock ticking. The scoreline is made up entirely of own goals (though Johnson, the former captain, still claims one of them never crossed the line). A late substitution seems to have put the Tories back in the game and gives a glimmer of hope for extra time.
But how likely is that, really?
The fact that basic competence now feels like statesmanship of the highest order is surely a bad sign.
My latest research shows how voters are seeing things.
Head to head, Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are closely matched. There is little to choose between them when we ask how people compare their judgment, strength as a leader or ability to get things done – though Starmer leads comfortably on honesty, integrity and caring about ‘people like me’.
The Conservative brand is in as bad a state as I have seen in all my years of polling.
Fewer than one in ten say the party is competent, shares their values or is on their side.
Labour is more trusted on nearly all policy issues – not just the NHS and the cost of living, but on traditionally Tory territory such as immigration and crime.
Voters say the Sunak Government feels like a rehash of its predecessors rather than a fresh new administration.
Few are optimistic that the latest new Government will succeed in any of its immediate challenges, such as bringing financial stability, controlling inflation or making a success of Brexit – let alone dealing with small-boat migrant Channel crossings or cutting NHS waiting lists.
Moreover, many reject the claim that world events are responsible for Britain’s predicament: voters are more likely to blame the Government than the after-effects of Covid or the war in Ukraine. No General Elections are the same, but the portents from recent contests are not good for the Conservatives.
First, Sunak’s Tories face Theresa May’s 2017 problem, when she struggled to unite austerity-backing David Cameron voters (many of whom voted Remain in the referendum) with 2016 Brexiteers (many of whom disliked austerity).
In the absence of the twin unifiers of the last Election – the drive to ‘get Brexit done’ under Johnson and horror at the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in No 10 – the 2019 coalition has collapsed. Anti-austerity Leavers have deserted the party in droves, while more liberal Tory Remainers had already gone.
My research shows that views about austerity are once again the best predictor of whether someone will back Labour or the Conservatives.
Ask a group of people who have previously voted Tory about what they felt when they heard Rishi Sunak was to become Prime Minister and the chances are someone will say ‘relief’
Next, Sunak has Gordon Brown’s 2010 problem. Brown argued furiously that Britain’s credit crunch and subsequent recession were the result of a global financial crisis, not his own mismanagement.
The voters took a different view – or in any case decided that whoever had caused the problem, they wanted someone else to get them out of it.
Worst of all, it looks increasingly as if Sunak is up against John Major’s 1997 problem – a governing party that looked so exhausted, tainted and ill-disciplined that even a strongly recovering economy could not stave off defeat at the hands of a newly detoxified Labour opposition. Indeed, the final disservice of the Liz Truss experiment was not just to wreck what remained of the Tory reputation for financial competence, but to show just how constrained any government is when it comes to economic policy, so reducing the risk of putting Labour in charge.
My poll found one third of 2019 Tories saying they would probably vote for the party again next time, and a quarter saying they wouldn’t – either for the next Election or for good.
Another third said they might give the party another go, but it would really have to sort itself out first. These people want to give Sunak the benefit of the doubt and see what happens.
Many grimly accept the necessity of Jeremy Hunt’s tax rises. They don’t expect every problem to be fixed, but they want things moving in the right direction. Crucially, they want an end to scandals and distractions.
And it’s possible to see how, if everything goes right, enough people might be convinced by policy successes – inflation down, borrowing under control, progress on migration and NHS waiting times – to give the Tories another chance.
But policy and competence may no longer be enough for people.
To extend the World Cup analogy, they think it’s all over. Most expect Labour to win the next Election, with or without an overall majority.
Only one in ten former Conservatives expects an outright Tory victory.
On paper, Sunak and the party could turn things around – and maybe they will yet. But the vibe is against them. Placating the financial markets is one thing. Overcoming the mood is another.
lLord Ashcroft is an international businessman, author, pollster and philanthropist. His research is published in full at LordAshcroftPolls.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @LordAshcroft
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Bombshell polling reveals Sir Keir Starmer is ahead of Rishi Sunak on 11 out of 12 key issues