Conservative Party peer and the largest private funder of public political polling in the UK, Lord Ashcroft, is back with some new focus groups. They’ve been held in the two constituencies with Parliamentary by-elections coming up: Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton.
The Lib Dem campaign in the latter is certainly getting noticed:
Participants in both constituencies had been deluged with literature (“I had nine from the Lib Dems last week, all the same person, Richard Foord. If his face comes through my letterbox again… My dog doesn’t eat the post but now I wish he did”).
Boris Johnson continues to be a drag on the Conservative Party’s vote:
Some in both places said they could not vote Conservative again while Boris Johnson was in charge. “He stood up in the House of Commons and said, ‘I have been informed that no rules were broken at the parties I didn’t go to’. Then you find out that he was at them, which was a blatant lie to everyone in the country. I can’t trust a single word that comes out of Boris’s mouth from now on.” You trusted every word before? “No, but I could trust a percentage of them. Now it’s zero trust.”
Some said that, for them, the revelations had tipped the balance against him: “He’s a character, a bit of a geezer in an Eton sort of way, but there’s a fulcrum isn’t there? And I think he’s slightly tipped that fulcrum now. He’s gone from being the loveable rogue to being someone who’s lost credibility;” “The fact that he can’t even brush his hair in the morning has really started to grate on me.”
Although that’s playing into a more general anti-politics sentiment:
It was clear that for many voters the issue was no longer an exclusively Johnsonian or even Tory problem, but a case of class misconduct reminiscent of the expenses scandal. “It’s just about which of them get found out,” a woman in Wakefield observed. “They deny it and deny it until there’s proof.” “They’re both as bad as each other,” said another constituent. “There are exactly the same pictures of Starmer with a few of them eating and drinking. And it’s like, hang on a minute;” “It depends what’s going to become of beergate or currygate or whatever it is. He’s been pointing the finger at Boris, but give it a few weeks and we might all be pointing the finger at him.”
Although the focus groups were not wowed by Keir Starmer, nor were they strongly hostile to them – an important consideration for Conservative/Lib Dem waverers, who in 2019 often stuck with the Conservatives in fear of Jeremy Corbyn. But now:
“I was frightened of Corbyn, but I’m not frightened of Starmer,” one man in the Devon seat told us – an important point where the prospect of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition could be a central Tory theme at a general election. “I thought the Lib Dems were good at knocking the nuttiness out of some of the Tory policies in the coalition, so maybe if they were with Labour they would do the same.”
Anecdotally, around half the 2019 Tories in our groups said they would probably switch or stay at home next Thursday, giving no reason to doubt the received wisdom that both seats will change hands. But on the evidence of these groups, their significance as predictors of the next general election is limited. Some have decided: “We need some consistency. It’s been like a soap opera – we’ve had Brexit, then covid, and since then it’s been a complete bitch-fest. We need to move forward,” said one participant; “If Boris Johnson is leader of the Conservatives in two years’ time I will not vote for them,” said another.
More details over on Lord Ashcroft’s website.
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