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Public have ‘stopped listening’ to Tories as poll suggests electoral disaster

The public have “stopped listening” to the Tories and are tired of the party’s “navel gazing”, a Cabinet minister warned as a poll suggested Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives could be reduced to fewer than 100 MPs at the general election.

The minister suggested an early general election might be the Tories’ best hope as it would put Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour under greater scrutiny.

Unease about the Prime Minister’s leadership will have been fuelled by a major poll which indicated Labour is on course for a landslide win, with a projected 286-seat majority.

The unnamed Cabinet minister quoted in the Sunday Telegraph said: “The public have stopped listening. I think the public are a bit tired of politics in general and they are certainly tired of Conservatives navel gazing.

“The best prospect now for the party is for Starmer and his policies to come under scrutiny.

“The local elections are not going to bring the Labour Party under any great scrutiny.

“The only way that happens is a general election and that’s your chance to put your manifesto forward.”

Mr Sunak has suggested the election will come in the second half of 2024, with ministers speculating about dates in October or November in recent weeks.

But a disastrous set of local elections in May could force his hand, either by leading to a challenge to his leadership or by persuading him that an earlier polling day could be a better solution than limping on with a divided party.

The 15,000-person poll was used to create a seat-by-seat breakdown, which indicated the Conservatives would be wiped out in Scotland and Wales and hold just 98 seats in England – with even the Prime Minister’s previously safe seat at risk.

The Survation study for internationalist campaign group Best for Britain put Labour on 45% with a 19-point lead over the Tories on 26%.

The constituency forecast suggested Labour could be on course to win 468 seats.

The poll suggests the Scottish National Party would pick up 41 seats, the Liberal Democrats 22 and Plaid Cymru two.

In 2019 the Conservatives had 365 seats, Labour 203, the SNP 48, the Lib Dems 11 and Plaid four.

Former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke, a prominent critic of Mr Sunak, told the Sunday Times the Tories were “sleepwalking to a historic disaster”.

He added: “The British people’s judgment on the current direction of travel is clear. Failing to listen and change course will have devastating consequences for our party and country… I believe MPs owe it both to the Conservative Party and to the country we love to try.”

Lord Frost, the former Brexit secretary, said: “The Tory party needs to face up to the reality that its current policies have alienated huge numbers of our voters.

“Only a shift to properly conservative policies, to deliver the change in the way the country is run that people voted for with Brexit, can alter that.”

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told Times Radio there was “real anger with the Government” but “that’s different from having a desire to have Labour”.

“This is mostly concern and anger about, I can understand fully, people’s cost of living, the problems that came out post-Covid, the amount of money we had to spend. therefore the higher levels of taxation, and the economy, which had been in difficulty.

“All of these things are clear issues and, of course, migration has become a very big issue in the political debate.

“So all of those are quite good reasons why the public is angry, annoyed and fed up with the difficulties that they face.”

But Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho told the Sunday Telegraph her primary advice to the Prime Minister was to “keep going” and “we are fighting to win”.

In an analysis which will fuel Conservative unease about the threat from Reform UK, the survey suggested Richard Tice’s party will come second in seven seats and achieve an overall vote share of 8.5%, just behind the Liberal Democrats on 10.4%

But a model of what would happen if Reform UK did not stand suggested the Tories would win 150 seats – still a crushing defeat, but potentially giving Mr Sunak, or more likely his replacement, a better chance to rebuild.

The study suggested several Cabinet ministers, including potential leadership contenders, could be ousted at the election as the Tories face their worst result.

Politics graphic
(PA Graphics)

Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, Home Secretary James Cleverly and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps would all lose their seats, according to the study, which used a multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) process to model constituency-level results.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch looks likely to retain her seat, along with former home secretary Suella Braverman and ex-immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

In Mr Sunak’s new Richmond and Northallerton seat, which, based on the 2019 results should be solidly Conservative, he has just a 2.4% lead over Labour, while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has just a 1% margin over the Liberal Democrats in his new Godalming and Ash seat.

The poll of 15,029 adults and MRP analysis by Survation was conducted between March 8-22.

In a sign of Reform UK’s ambitions, Tory MP Bob Seely revealed he had been approached to defect to the Nigel Farage-linked party.

Writing in The Sun On Sunday, he said: “I said no to Reform because I believe in loyalty. I believed in loyalty when I served in the British Army and I believe it when I serve my constituents on the Isle of Wight, and I believe in it when I am supporting Rishi Sunak.

“I don’t cut and run, and neither should we.”

A Reform spokesman told the newspaper: “If he wants to turn down the only chance he has of saving his skin, well, that’s up to him.”