It’s not the Tory policies people don’t like… it’s the Tory party

This article was first published in the Daily Mail.

A WOMAN in one of my focus groups last week said that if she had nothing to go on but the leaflets that came through her door, and if these had no party logos, she would probably vote Conservative.

This, in fact, she had no intention of doing – which tells you something about the value of the manifestos that have consumed the interest of the political class over the past week.

Very occasionally, a policy promise will capture the public’s imagination or go down so badly that it torpedoes the campaign of whoever proposed it. But most of the time, policy platforms only serve to amplify whatever people thought of the parties already.

While people often claim to read all the manifestos before making up their minds (if you think politicians tell fibs, you should listen to the voters), in reality they will catch the odd snippet, which they will see through the prism of the views that they already hold.

This is amply demonstrated in my latest poll, where we asked respondents what they thought of various policies – but only told half of them which manifesto they had been taken from.

In nearly every case, the policies were rated more popular (or less unpopular) when people weren’t told which party was behind them.

For example, support for a new Help to Buy scheme and scrapping stamp duty for first-time buyers up to £425,000 rises by 15 points when you take the Conservative Party’s name off it, and raising the income tax threshold to £20,000 is 23 points higher when people don’t know it comes from Reform UK.

The effect applies to Labour and the Lib Dems, too. In other words, people’s opinions of the policies depend on the parties as much as the other way round.

This is especially bad news for the Tories, since it reveals how little they can do to change their fortunes. I found that the average likelihood of those who voted for the Conservatives in 2019 turning out for the party again on July 4 had fallen again since last week, to just 37 out of 100.

Only 7 per cent of Conservative 2019 voters – let alone anyone else – say they are satisfied with the current government.

Looking at those who say they are more likely than not to vote for a particular party, we find Labour well ahead on 43 per cent and Reform UK drawing level with the Tories on 18 per cent each.

As the day of reckoning approaches, the Tories will be tempted to turn their fire on Labour and Keir Starmer.

Voters will not take the Conservatives’ word about anything, let alone the qualities of their opponents, but they already have plenty of doubts about the likely new regime.

Only one in three expects Labour to bring more stability and competence in government, lower NHS waiting times or improve public services.

Fewer than three in ten anticipate more jobs, opportunity and prosperity or more manageable living costs. And fewer than one in six thinks there will be stricter immigration controls or a tougher approach to crime.

Many have worries, including runaway spending, debt and – especially – tax. Rishi Sunak’s claim of a £2,000 tax hike under Labour remains the one memorable point from the first televised debate, and few believe that any tax rises will be limited to what has already been declared.

Though Starmer has widened his personal lead over Sunak, still nearly half say they don’t know who would do the better job as PM. In my groups, uncertain voters say he seems wishy-washy and vague about his plans.

Some also wonder about the fact that five years ago Starmer campaigned to put Jeremy Corbyn into No 10. Opinion was divided as to whether the Labour leader is more Left-wing than he now claims (which Labour-leaning voters are much more likely to think would be a good thing) or if he didn’t support Corbyn as strongly as he said he did at the time.

(Maybe it would help if he talked about his father being a toolmaker. Just a thought.)

But these points seem unlikely to make much of a dent. I found that of those saying they would prefer a Labour government, only 37 per cent said they thought Starmer and his party would do a good job governing Britain.

A greater number – 46 per cent – said Labour probably wouldn’t do a good job, but they could hardly be worse than what we have now.

The Tories’ final appeal to the country is to keep Labour’s majority down to reasonable proportions and avoid giving Starmer a blank cheque.

Listening to voters in competitive seats around the country, I find that this resonates with some people, but they are torn. Among 2019 Tories who say they are unlikely to vote for the party this time, four in ten want there to be enough Conservatives left in parliament to form a strong opposition and hold the government to account.

But fractionally more agree that the Tories ‘need a huge defeat so they get the message’.


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