No Turning Back – Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, and the Conservative voting coalition

By Lord Ashcroft

Polling of Conservative members, including that conducted by ConHome, has consistently put Liz Truss ahead of Rishi Sunak in the race for the leadership. My new research among wider electorate – a 10,000-sample survey together with 12 focus groups around the country – helps explain the gap. It also shows how Boris Johnson’s remarkable voting coalition sees things, and why keeping them together will be such a challenge for his successor.

As I wrote in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, the Tories’ strategic choices are extremely limited. However much some might regret the direction the party has taken in recent years, recreating a Cameroonian coalition in time for the next election is simply not an option. The new leader’s task will be to turn out as many as possible of those who backed Johnson in 2019.

Conducting this research has brought home once again just how remarkable was the voting bloc that Johnson assembled, albeit with the considerable help of Jeremy Corbyn and parliament’s intransigent remainers. Our venues – all Tory seats – included Esher and Cheltenham, Wolverhampton and Middlesbrough, and in terms of background, occupation and ethnicity the participants – all 2019 Conservatives – were as varied as those in any research project I can remember. Welcome to modern Britain, you might say. My point is that the Conservative electorate did not always look like this.

If the size and diversity of the Johnson coalition is partly explained by Johnson and his unusual appeal, it also helps explain something about his premiership. A charitable view would be that his notorious cakeism was a response to the conflicting demands of his voters, and that if he veered about like a shopping trolley it was to try and stop any of them falling out over the edge (more…)

Liz the lioness? My new polling on the Tory leadership

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday

The increasingly frantic tone of the leadership election suggests that the Conservatives are making a momentous decision that will define their party for years to come. In fact, the idea that the Tories face a grand strategic choice is an illusion. With two years until the next election, the new leader’s only option is to turn out as many of Johnson’s 2019 supporters as they possibly can.

In the last decade the Tory vote has become much more working class and culturally conservative – more Brexity – than when David Cameron entered Number 10 (a result, ironically enough, of his decision to hold the referendum that ended his premiership). It will not be easy to reassemble Boris Johnson’s big, diverse voting coalition, but no new leader can simply trade it in for a new one. It is too late to send new Tory voters home from the party and reissue invitations to people who have already left.

The trick will be even harder to pull off because none of the three stars that aligned to make the 2019 result possible – the Brexit deadlock, Jeremy Corbyn, and Johnson himself – is still in its place.

Most 2019 Tories agree it was time for Johnson to go. But as I found in my new research, out today, that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it (more…)

My new polling from Ukraine, Russia – and 11 neighbouring countries

By Lord Ashcroft

Below is the text of my presentation to the International Democrat Union Forum in Berlin: Regional Views on the War in Ukraine.

Over the last three weeks I have conducted polls in both Ukraine and Russia, along with 11 other countries in the region: Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Georgia.

 

 

Let’s start with the conflict itself. In Ukraine, people are digging in for a long war. More than two in three Ukrainians expect the conflict to last at least another four months – more than in any other country we surveyed. A quarter expect it to be going on more than a year from now (more…)

Canadian politics after covid

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in Canada’s National Post

One reason the Ottawa truckers’ protest at the start of this year captured international attention was that political flashpoints are vanishingly rare in what is, to outsiders, a famously harmonious country.

As a pollster used to studying the fractious politics of Britain and the US, I wondered whether the blockade was an isolated blot on Canada’s peaceful political landscape, or a sign of emerging tensions. I also wanted to see what the results meant for the long-serving Trudeau government and – as a former deputy chairman of the UK Conservatives during their long wilderness years – for the centre-right opposition as it chooses a new leader and a new direction.

My poll of 10,000 Canadians, together with focus groups throughout the country, finds few signs of the polarisation that shapes politics in the US and parts of Europe. Canadians largely agree that their country is among the best places in the world to live, that opportunities exist for those prepared to take them, and that more should be done to promote the rights of indigenous people. There is a wide consensus that in important respects Canadian life has improved in recent years, especially when it comes to the environment, minority rights and embracing diversity.

But Canadians also agree on what has got worse (more…)

“He’s a bit of a geezer, in an Eton sort of way”: my by-election focus groups in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton

By Lord Ashcroft

By-elections are hardly ever convenient for a government, but next week’s contests in marginal Wakefield and supposedly safe Tiverton & Honiton are especially inopportune. The events that precipitated each of them have hardly helped, judging from my focus groups of 2019 Conservatives in both constituencies this week.

“It’s a bit more serious than partygate, isn’t it,” as a man in the West Yorkshire seat put it. “OK, he was found guilty but the thing that got me was that part of the Tory party was told before he was elected. They knew beforehand but stood by him.” Not everyone agreed (“it was an individual – people like that can get into everywhere”) but there was no doubt the former MP Imran Khan’s offence had “tarnished things.”

In Devon, some were sorry to see the demise of Neil Parish. “Being a farmer, I think it’s a shame. He was a farmer himself and he was a good advocate for us.” Even so, he had to go. “There’s a combine called the Dominator, so I can see that, but he did do it a second time. He’s done the right thing and resigned. It’s what it was, silly boy, and it’s a shame because he was a good MP.” Some of the women took a different view. “I thought he was a right numpty before that,” said one, “so it wasn’t a surprise (more…)

After a turbulent few weeks, where do Johnson – and Starmer – really stand with the voters?

By Lord Ashcroft

This week’s local elections take place against the backdrop of leadership plots and follow perhaps the most politically turbulent few months since the Brexit wars. My new research, including an 8,000-sample poll and focus groups with 2019 Conservatives in different types of seat throughout the country, shows how voters have reacted to the recent controversies and where Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer and their parties now stand in relation to the voters.

Partygate: is it over yet?

Just under half of all voters (47%) including nearly one in five 2019 Tories, said they thought “breaking the rules is a very serious matter, and Boris Johnson should resign”. This included more than 3 in 10 (31%) of those who switched from Labour to the Conservatives at the 2019 election (more…)

Three reasons why Boris Johnson can survive the public’s anger at Partygate

By Lord Ashcroft

This article first appeared in the Mail on Sunday.

Looking at my latest polling it is easy to see why many believe Boris Johnson’s Downing Street days are numbered.

My new 8,000-sample survey shows the opposition ahead not just on traditional Labour issues like the NHS and public services, but on supposedly Tory territory like immigration and crime. Voters say they are more inclined to trust Labour to run the economy.

When it comes to the premiership, Keir Starmer rates higher than Johnson in nearly all areas: communicating effectively, leading a team, formulating effective policies, having the right judgment in a crisis – and doing the job of prime minister overall. Apart from willingness to take tough decisions for the long term – a double-edged sword that can suggest callousness as well as realism – the Conservatives lag Labour on all other qualities we asked about: unity, values, being “on the side of people like me”, having the right priorities and (disastrously for a centre-right party) competence.

The government’s response to rocketing living costs has hardly helped (more…)

For now, Russia backs Putin and the invasion – but younger people are sceptical of the Kremlin line

By Lord Ashcroft

Two weeks ago I published survey in Ukraine that showed the determination of its population to defend their country and their view that Britain was doing more than most allies to help.

My latest poll, conducted by telephone in Russia from a neighbouring state, comes with two obvious caveats. The first is that the Putin regime effectively controls what Russians see and hear about the “special military operation” in Ukraine – and this is on top of two decades of Kremlin propaganda for the president and his works. The second is that with protests crushed and prison terms for anyone accused of spreading of “fake news” about the war, many might be cautious in talking about their views to a stranger. We also know, however, that a crisis can often prompt a surge of national loyalty.

With those health warnings, the survey suggests that Putin has managed to shape Russian opinion strongly in his favour – at least for the time being. Here are the main findings.

 

Most Russians back the invasion of Ukraine – but they don’t claim all of it

76% said they support the “special military operation” in Ukraine, with more than half (57%) saying they do so strongly. (more…)

My new book on the NHS – and what the voters really think about their favourite institution

By Lord Ashcroft

My new book, published tomorrow, could be my most controversial yet.

No, not that one. I mean Life Support: The State of the NHS in an Age of Pandemics. In it, my co-author Isabel Oakeshott and I ask hard questions about how good the National Health Service really is, and what needs to change if it is to offer the consistently high quality of care that patients and taxpayers deserve.

An objective study of a public institution ought not to be controversial, but any attempt to offer an unvarnished view of the NHS today will inevitably be seen in some quarters as an attack. Life Support is no such thing, of course. (After all, I spent a year campaigning, successfully as it turned out, for a rare collective award of the George Cross for the NHS and its staff). Nor is it an argument for doing away with the principle that services should be free at the point of delivery, which would be politically impractical even if I thought it a good idea, which I don’t. Rather, it is a rigorous study of the NHS as it really is today – the good, the bad and the ugly – based on detailed on-the-ground research and hundreds of interviews with health professionals and others (more…)

Ukrainians want to stay and fight, but don’t see Russian people as the enemy. A remarkable poll from Kyiv

By Lord Ashcroft

We have all seen the extraordinary bravery and spirit with which the people of Ukraine have responded to Putin’s brutal invasion. The results of a survey which, somewhat to my astonishment, a research firm in Kyiv was able to conduct for Lord Ashcroft Polls in the past few days only add to my admiration.

You might think an opinion survey is a rather trivial distraction given the magnitude of events that are unfolding. If so, let me say that our partners in Kyiv were pleased to have the work and – most importantly – the chance to show the world something of what Ukrainians are thinking and feeling as they defend their country. These are the main findings:

Ukrainians want to stay and fight.

Only 11% of Ukrainians agreed “if I could leave Ukraine safely tomorrow for another country I would.” Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) strongly disagreed. Only 1 in 20 (5%) of those aged 65 or over said they would leave if they could (more…)