Rishi Sunak and his cabinet headed to his country retreat in Chequers today to plot much-needed strategies for the Tory party’s survival.
With a general election pencilled in for the autumn of next year, ministers such as Jeremy Hunt, Steve Barclay and Suella Braverman were to give updates on progress made so far on the PM’s five New Year pledges, which include getting UK growth back on track, tackling record NHS waiting lists and stopping small boat Channel crossings.
The guest of honour during the all-day summit is elections guru, Isaac Levido, a strategist considered one of the masterminds behind Boris Johnson’s 2019 landslide victory.
Levido was expected to give a detailed presentation on the party’s prospects at the next election, in which he was due to encourage ministers that there is still time to salvage things.
But he was also due to be brutally honest about their prospects. Any hope of victory would hinge on delivering Sunak’s five-point plan but also restoring public trust by putting an end to the Tory infighting. As we have seen over the last two years – in which the last two Prime Ministers were booted out of Number 10 – that seems tough to achieve.
Getting public trust back on side is being made all the more difficult by the delicate position of Tory chairman Nadhim Zahawi, plagued by his tax affairs with the HMRC. Zahawi was there with his Cabinet colleagues despite a number of them reportedly wanting him to resign. As a result, he is said to be keeping a low profile and sources say he won’t be giving a presentation even though the theme of the day – electoral strategy – is very much the primary focus of his current role.
Levido was also expected to tease out Starmer’s weak points during the summit, with one Tory source telling the Daily Mail that Starmer’s “woman problem” is likely to be identified as one of his key areas of vulnerability. More generally, Levido will have sought to build morale by telling the Cabinet that Labour’s lead is “softer than it looks.”
But will ministers feel sufficiently buoyed up? A glance at the latest polls suggests it is anything but soft – on the contrary the Conservative party’s prospects at the next election look more dire than ever.
Three polls conducted last night from People Polling, YouGov and Focal data show 50%, 48% and 49% respectively would vote Labour at the next election.
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If these numbers hold, this would mean a landslide win for Starmer in 2024. To put the scale of the victory into context, when Tony Blair won a 179 seat majority in 1997, Labour scored 43.2% and the Tories 30.7% – a lead of 12.5%. Last night’s polls are showing leads of up to 29%.
Findings from People Polling for GB News hammer home just how much work Sunak has to do. Even since the Christmas break, Sunak’s personal approval rating have fallen. Almost half of the public (49%) now have a negative opinion of the PM, while only 23% have a positive one.
This same poll also indicates that many have lost all faith in the government’s ability to deliver on levelling up pledges, despite this policy being a key vote winner for the Conservative party in 2019. When asked how confident they are that the government will “level up” the country’s left behind regions by the time of the next election, 60% of voters said “not at all”. This comes as the government attempts to bat away accusations that it has handed out a disproportionate amount of cash to southern areas as it distributed its latest round of levelling up funding.
If the poll wasn’t already damning enough, in another blow to Sunak, it also found that voters have more faith in Keir Starmer to turn the economy around, despite restoration of economic competence being a primary focus of Sunak’s five-point plan. Only 16% said the Tories would be best to manage the country’s finances in the years ahead compared to 32% who picked Labour.
Now that is some turn around for the Tories who pride themselves on being the party of economic competence. If the Tories can’t be trusted on the economy, then what is left?
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