Working class voters fleeing Tories under Rishi Sunak, poll finds

Only 44% of working-class voters who backed the Tories in 2019 say they will do so again

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 09 October 2023 12:17 BST
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Keir Starmer says it is 'time for change' as he addresses delegates at Labour conference

Working-class Britons who helped Boris Johnson and the Conservatives win the last general election have been fleeing the party under Rishi Sunak, according to new polling.

Less than half (44 per cent) of working-class voters who backed the Tories in 2019 say they will do so again at next year’s battle to win power, the YouGov survey found.

Around 12 per cent of 2019 Tories say they will back Nigel Farage’s Reform UK; while only 9 per cent say they will switch to Labour – with a large proportion (21 per cent) saying they don’t not know who they will vote for.

Despite Mr Sunak’s struggles to win support from people on low incomes, Labour’s current lead over the Tories is weaker with working-class voters than with the wider electorate.

Keir Starmer’s party has only a six-point advantage among working-class voters, while enjoying a 15-point among all voters.

The centre-left Progressive Policy Institute think tank, which commissioned the YouGov poll, warned that Labour still had a lot of work to do to win over many in its traditional base.

The think tank’s report found that cost of living issues were much more important to working-class Britons that so-called “culture war” issues that have “gained disproportionate media attention”.

It called for Labour to raise wages for those on low and middle incomes, offer better housing to younger people and restore a sense fairness amid widespread mistrust after Partygate.

“Government should not be afraid to tax excess profits where companies are not passing the benefit on to consumers and make sure that UK taxes are paid in full,” the report also stated.

Keir Starmer at the Labour conference on Monday
Keir Starmer at the Labour conference on Monday (PA)

Some 74 per cent of voters said the Tories were not close to working-class people – a boost for Labour as they continue to point to Mr Sunak’s enormous personal wealth.

Claire Ainsley, a director at the Progressive Policy Institute, said Labour was “on course” to win over the working-class voters who were feeling the most pessimistic about their finances.

“The task for Labour is to inspire hope and belief that the deal can be re-made whereby if you work hard, you get on,” she said.

“That rests on offering concrete plans to improve people’s security and their prospects, and restore a sense of basic fairness to the economy and society.”

However, there are signs that Mr Sunak’s decision to water down net zero climate policies and his claim that the poorest people will pay the heaviest price could be politically effective.

Some 53 per cent of working-class voters say it is important to tackle climate change but “people like me should not be paying the cost of policies to reduce global carbon emissions”.

Rishi Sunak has claimed his net zero policy will ‘save all of you money’
Rishi Sunak has claimed his net zero policy will ‘save all of you money’ (PA Wire)

On Monday, Mr Sunak told an event that he wanted to reach net zero carbon emissions in way that “saves all of you money” and “doesn’t bankrupt the country”.

The PM pushed back the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales until 2035 and weakened the plan to phase out gas boilers.

Mr Starmer told business leaders on Monday that he is primed for an election as soon as May, as he warned that the Tories will drag the campaign into the gutter.

Speaking at business forum at the Labour conference, the party leader said: “It will either be May or October, and our team is ready for May because I don’t think anybody would rule out May.”

Sir Keir added: “In terms of how it will be run, I think it will unfortunately descend into a place which isn’t about big politics. I think it will go low from the government’s point of view.”

Pointing to Mr Sunak’s watering down of net zero, he said the government was “making decisions in the short-term interest of opening up divides for the purpose of an election.” He added: “If we do come into government, you will be coming into government with us”.

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