Voters demand general election now as Sunak becomes third prime minister of 2022

Almost two-thirds of voters and two-fifths of Tories want a fresh ballot

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 25 October 2022 20:10 BST
Rishi Sunak arrives at Downing Street following audience with King Charles

Rishi Sunak claimed he held a mandate for power as he stepped into 10 Downing Street to form his new government on Tuesday – but most voters want their say in a general election, exclusive polling shows.

Britain’s latest prime minister – the third in ten weeks – made clear he will not seek approval for his agenda, citing the 2019 general election won by the Conservatives under Boris Johnson.

But a poll for The Independent has found almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of voters – including nearly two in five (38 per cent) of those who backed the Tories in 2019 – say the new PM should get his own mandate by calling an election now.

It came as the number of signatures on The Independent’s petition for an election now passed 430,000.

“The mandate my party earned in 2019 is not the sole property of any one individual,” said Mr Sunak after returning from Buckingham Palace. “It is a mandate that belongs to and unites all of us.”

He promised an administration that would fix the “mistakes” of his predecessor Liz Truss and offer “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”. But his continuing dependence on the support of the Tory right was evident as he reappointed Suella Braverman as home secretary days after she was sacked for breaking security rules.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that Mr Sunak had only fought one election campaign to be prime minister, in which he was “thrashed” by Ms Truss.

”No wonder he doesn’t want to fight a general election,” Sir Keir told his shadow cabinet.

And Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Rishi Sunak’s refusal to call a general election shows the Conservative Party does not trust the British people.

“The public will be rightly furious that they have been denied a say, while Conservative MPs get to decide who runs our country.”

Some 52 per cent of those questioned by Savanta said it was not acceptable for a new prime minister to be selected by the ruling party’s MPs, as Mr Sunak was, or by party members, as was the case with Ms Truss. Just 37 per cent thought that this was an acceptable way to choose the head of the nation’s government.

Fewer than one in three (31 per cent) think it is right for Sunak to stay in Downing Street without a national vote, and more than half (52 per cent) say it is not acceptable for the MPs or members of the ruling party to decide the identity of the PM without reference to voters.

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak faced a groundswell of anger from grassroots Tories who were denied a vote on the leadership because both Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt dropped out of the contest as the former chancellor secured an unassailable lead among MPs.

The chair of the Bow Group think tank, Ben Harris-Quinney, said tens of thousands could quit as a result of Sunak’s “coronation”.

And the chair of the Telford Conservative Association, Tamara Woods, said that rank-and-file members feel “used”.

Do you want a general election now?

“They have made the grassroots feel used and not needed,” Ms Woods told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “We are the people who have to stand on the doorstep.

“We are the people who have to defend what is happening in parliament. The Conservative Party is a very, very big machine and they have excluded a large part of us.”

Today’s poll, conducted from 21-23 October, confirms the mammoth task which Mr Sunak faces to win back the trust of voters following the calamitous collapse in Tory ratings under Ms Truss.

Labour was on 51 per cent (up eight points compared to a similar poll a month ago), to the Tories’ 25 per cent (down four) and Liberal Democrats on eight (down four).

Although Labour’s lead was reduced from the 30-plus points recorded in recent weeks, in an apparent Tory “bounce” due to Ms Truss’s resignation, it would still deliver Sir Keir Starmer with a landslide victory in a general election.

In a damning verdict on the damage done to Tory reputations for economic competence by the events of recent weeks, some 58 per cent of those questioned said that Conservatives were not capable of handling the economy, against just 31 per cent who said they were.

Matched against Labour on a raft of policy areas, Tories came out behind on every count except for ensuring the defence of the UK, where they led by a single point (39-38 per cent).

Starmer’s party led by a massive 20 points (48 per cent to 28) on offering strong leadership, by 19 points (48-29) on managing the economy, by 25 points (50-25) on delivering stability and 10 points 44-34) on creating a good environment for business – all traditionally seen as core areas of strength for the Tories.

And Labour also led by large margins on its own “home territory”, with a 30-point advantage over Tories on handling the NHS (54 per cent to 24) and leading by 25 points (52-27)on delivering education, by 21 points on tackling climate change (47-26), by 21 points (48-27) on creating a peaceful and secure society, and by 30 points (54-24) on creating a good environment for families.

The poll confirmed that Mr Sunak was voters’ preferred choice as Conservative leader, beating Johnson in a head-to-head battle by 42 per cent to 34 and Mordaunt by 47 per cent to 23.

But among Conservative voters, Mr Johnson was the runaway first choice, beating Sunak by 51 per cent to 35 and Mordaunt by 60-18.

The findings indicate that Johnson could have won the premiership if he had felt able to put himself forward for a face-off with Sunak in an online ballot of party members.

Savanta ComRes questioned 2,027 British adults between 21 and 23 October.

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