The State We’re In

By Lord Ashcroft

“Britain is broken – people are getting poorer, nothing seems to work properly, and we need big changes to the way the country works, whichever party is in government.” In my latest polling, an extraordinary 72% agreed with this statement, including more than half of 2019 Conservative voters. Only just over one in five opted took the alternative view that “there will always be problems that need sorting out, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the way the country works.”

Many thinkers of various stripes agree: economists, including those on the Growth Commission established by Liz Truss, consider the urgent question of how to improve Britain’s sluggish productivity. Many others on the centre-right – not least those contributing to ConHome’s project on reducing demand for government – worry about an allied problem: that the state itself has become too big, expensive and burdensome, and that the Tories should make it their mission to rein it in.

This is a recurring theme in Conservative thought, and with good reason. But it’s easy to take the arguments for a smaller state for granted, and assume they are self-evident to everyone. At least as dangerous, politically, is the temptation to think in terms of theory when voters think almost exclusively in terms of practice. I therefore wanted to find out how people saw the questions at stake in this debate – about the tax burden, business regulation, spending and public services, the role of the state itself, and how they reacted to the low-tax, small-state agenda (more…)

Broken Britain has to be fixed – regardless of whether Rishi or Keir is PM

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in the Mail on Sunday.

After 13 years of Conservative government, things were not supposed to look like this. Strikes, inflation, record NHS waiting lists, a sluggish economy and apparently uncontrollable migration point to a country where things are going wrong. Covid and Ukraine sound increasingly like excuses, not explanations.

But people sense more than an administration running out of steam after a bruising stint in office. I found more than seven in ten agreeing that Britain is broken and needs big changes, whichever party is in charge.

Political and economic sages debate how to boost the dismal rates of productivity that hold the country back compared to its more prosperous peers. For many Conservative thinkers, pondering the party’s direction in a new term of government (or, as many expect, in opposition), the problem is the state itself. Recent Tory governments – prompted by Covid and a desire to show suspicious voters that austerity was over – have spent, taxed and borrowed at a rate that would have made Gordon Brown blush; these critics argue that government has grown too big, tries to do too much, and so imposes an excessive burden on business, workers and families.

There is a lot to be said for this view: allowing governments to consume ever more of our national income is a recipe for economic and social decline. But as Mrs. Thatcher’s Tories understood in 1979, any attempt to reverse the trend has to start not with economic theory, but with people (more…)

“I can do this, and I’ll do it again if you don’t buck up your ideas”: My focus groups in Somerton, Selby and Uxbridge

By Lord Ashcroft

Last week we held focus groups with wavering former Conservative voters as they prepare to go to the polls in Thursday’s by-elections: in Wincanton, in the heart of the Somerton & Frome constituency; at the South Ruislip end of the Uxbridge seat; and in Selby.

People in all three places had a pretty clear view about the unorthodox circumstances giving rise to the contests. Nigel Adams “didn’t get his honours, did he? So he threw his toys out of the pram and said right, that’s it.” David Warburton “took way too long to step down… It’s a little bit naughty of the Conservatives to let it go on for so long. I think they tried to let it die down because there was so much going on elsewhere” (though there was some sympathy: “He had to stand down, but he had a really rough ride from the parliament people… It sounds like he’s been gagged from saying anything about the harassment allegations. I mean, people can forgive the odd snort of cocaine these days, but the sexual allegations were the real meat of the scandal and we’re none the wiser about what happened, if anything at all” (more…)

The longer the circus continues, the harder the Conservative case will be to make: my presentation to the IDU Forum in London

By Lord Ashcroft

This is an edited version of the presentation I gave yesterday to the International Democrat Union Forum in London.


To begin with, a very brief history of British politics since the general election of 2019, at which the Conservatives under Boris Johnson won an 80-seat majority. This was their biggest victory for more than 30 years, and saw the party win seats which had never before had a Tory MP (more…)

Rishi’s Race Against Time

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday.

Imagine an energetic new prime minister taking office at a time of huge domestic and international pressure. Many like his calm, businesslike approach to tackling the nation’s ills – the result of seismic global events and his predecessors’ blunders – and are willing to give him time to get to grips with them. After all, he has a whole parliament in which to sort things out.

This would be a fair description of Rishi Sunak’s situation were it not for some rather crucial details: that he doesn’t have a whole term to impress the voters, but something over a year; and that the four predecessors whom voters largely blame for the state of the country were all from his party. In that sense, Sunak faces a race against time, on two fronts. One is the months he has left to turn things around and show that Britain is on the right track; the other is the 13 years of Conservative-led government that voters are considering as the next election approaches.

In my latest research we found a good deal of sympathy for Sunak’s predicament, in the sense that the problems he faces are not of his making. But as people were only too ready to point out, just because something isn’t the government’s fault doesn’t mean it isn’t its responsibility to solve (more…)

Many assume Boris would lose a by-election in Uxbridge… but would he?

By Lord Ashcroft

The Commons Privileges Committee is expected to publish its conclusions on whether Boris Johnson misled parliament over the partygate affair in the early summer. Depending on its findings, the Committee could recommend Johnson’s suspension from parliament, which could, if approved by the House of Commons, lead to a recall motion and a by-election in his constituency – culminating, his detractors assume, in an ignominious defeat and the end of his political career.

My latest poll suggests they shouldn’t be so sure. Our survey of the Uxbridge & South Ruislip seat completed on Friday suggests he would win a by-election tomorrow with 50% of the vote, with Labour’s Danny Beales on 33% and Liberal Democrat Blaise Baquiche a distant third on 6%, a single point ahead of the Greens (more…)

The monarchy: the view from the “Commonwealth realms”

By Lord Ashcroft

Yesterday we looked at what my new polling tells us about how people in the UK see the monarchy in the run-up to the coronation. Today I will explore how things look in the “Commonwealth realms” – the 14 other countries around the world where the King is the head of state.

My polling found that in six of these countries, more said they would vote to become a republic in a referendum tomorrow than would choose to remain a constitutional monarchy. Margins for a republic were tight in Antigua and Barbuda (2 points), Australia (7 points) and Jamaica (9 points), but rather less so in The Bahamas, Canada (both 24 points) and the Solomon Islands (25 points) (more…)

“It might seem a strange system in this day and age, but it works” – my polling on the UK and the monarchy

By Lord Ashcroft

In the months leading up to Saturday’s Coronation I have polled nearly 23,000 people in the 15 countries in which King Charles III is head of state, and conducted 44 focus groups around the UK and in eight other nations around the world. Tomorrow on ConHome I will look at how the “Commonwealth realms” see their relationship with Britain and the Crown; today I will focus on how people see the institution here at home.

Cultivated ConHome readers may scowl at my opening with something as tabloidy as a popularity league table, but I think there are at least three things worth noting about the royal family’s favourability ratings. The first is that the King is not the most popular living royal, but rather occupies an upper-mid-table position with similar scores to the family overall and the institution itself. The Prince of Wales scores notably higher (more…)

Uncharted Realms: The Future of the Monarchy in the UK and Around the World

By Lord Ashcroft

On 6 May 2023, Westminster Abbey witnesses the Coronation of a head of state not just for the UK, but for 14 other countries around the world from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Yet aside from anecdotal evidence and occasional small-scale surveys, there is little reliable data as to how people in these countries – including the UK itself – see their relationship with the Crown, or what think about the idea of a monarch at the apex of their political system. In that sense, they are the “uncharted realms”.

As we begin a new chapter in the history of the monarchy, I wanted to look in detail at how people around the world see its place in their country, and what role, if any, they think it has in their national life. To that end, in the months leading up to the Coronation we have surveyed 22,701 people throughout all 15 countries in which King Charles III is head of state. We have also conducted 44 focus groups with people of different backgrounds in the UK and in eight of the so-called“Commonwealth realms”: Australia, The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

This is the kind of exercise Lord Ashcroft Polls usually deploys to scrutinise views of political leaders, parties, issues and campaigns. But while the King doesn’t need to be elected, the institution of the monarchy does need the public’s consent. A monarchy that lost the support of the people would quickly find itself on borrowed time.

Among many other things, we asked people about the role and relevance of the monarchy in their country, if they think it is unifying or divisive, how it should modernise, what if anything they would rather see in its place, whether they benefit from their ties with the UK, the significance in the debate of Britain’s colonial history, what they think of individual royals and the various controversies that surround them, how they would vote in a referendum on keeping the monarchy or becoming a republic, and what they think their country would choose in such a referendum tomorrow or in the future. The results, I think, paint a fascinating picture not just of how the people in each of these countries see their relationship with the Crown, but how they see Britain and indeed how they see themselves (more…)

Secure in Britain, but the future abroad looks much less certain

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Daily Mail.

Yesterday I wrote about how people in Britain see their monarchy as they prepare to witness the coronation of the new King. Despite some challenges, the institution looks secure for now. But my research found that in the Commonwealth realms – the 14 other countries around the world in which the King is head of state – the picture is much more mixed.

In six of these countries – Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Canada, Jamaica and the Solomon Islands – more voters said they would choose to become a republic in a referendum tomorrow than would opt to stay with the Crown. The question is not settled – in all but two, the proportion saying they didn’t know or would not vote was bigger than the gap between the two sides – but it shows the balance of forces and perhaps the direction of travel.

In the eight countries that would stay with the monarchy, the margins ranged from tight (5 points in Belize, 6 points in Papua New Guinea) to comfortable (29 points in St Vincent and The Grenadines, 45 points in the Pacific nation of Tuvalu).

At first glance, this suggests a division of varying magnitude as to what people think about the royal family, or how they see the institution of the monarchy. In fact, it has more to do with how they see themselves, and what if anything they think they gain from their relationship with Britain and having the King at the apex of their political system (more…)