Rishi Sunak’s journey as the UK Prime Minister has been anything but smooth. Taking the helm after the tumultuous tenures of his predecessors, Sunak inherited a deeply fractured party and a freefalling economy due to Liz Truss’s infamous mini-budget. The daunting task of rebuilding the Conservative Party’s image and regaining the public’s trust has fallen on Sunak’s shoulders.
Comparisons with Tony Blair’s entry into office
In contrast, Tony Blair entered office under much more favourable conditions. Winning a massive majority, he rode the ‘Cool Britannia’ wave, with his arrival at 10 Downing Street being widely celebrated across the country. Unlike Blair, Sunak did not receive the same fanfare, instead facing the uphill battle of overcoming the damage caused by his predecessors.
The context of Sunak’s premiership
Despite these challenges, recent polling indicates that Sunak’s efforts to tackle the issues may be starting to pay off. While the Labour Party still maintains a significant lead in the polls, the gap is beginning to close. This article will explore the historical context of the UK’s political landscape, the recent changes in polling, key policy areas affecting voter sentiment, and the potential path to victory for the Conservatives under Rishi Sunak’s leadership.
Polling performance since the 2019 general election
1. Boris Johnson’s initial lead
Following the 2019 general election, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls. The Labour Party was polling at just over 30%, while the Conservatives were at just under 45%. This 15-point lead was far from insignificant, and it only widened as the pandemic began, with people rallying behind the government.
2. The pandemic and its impact on polling
As the COVID-19 pandemic set in, the polling gap between the two main parties began to tighten. By the end of 2020, Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck, with the pandemic significantly influencing public opinion.
3. The vaccine rollout and the Conservatives’ resurgence
In 2021, as the vaccine rollout commenced, the Tories started to pull ahead once more, achieving a double-digit lead in the polls at certain points. The successful vaccination campaign seemed to renew public faith in the government’s handling of the crisis.
4. Scandals and Johnson’s resignation
However, things took a turn for the worse in December 2021 when the Daily Mirror published stories claiming that Boris Johnson had been hosting parties at Downing Street while the rest of the country was under lockdown. This was just the beginning of a series of scandals that would plague Johnson’s tenure, leading to his eventual resignation. As each scandal unfolded, Labour’s lead in the polls grew.
Liz Truss and the decline of the Conservative Party
1. Truss’s mini-budget
Following Johnson’s resignation, Liz Truss took over as Prime Minister, only to lead the Conservative Party to new lows. Her mini-budget was a disaster, causing the economy to spiral further downward and eroding public trust in the Conservatives’ ability to manage the nation’s finances.
2. Labour’s growing lead
During Truss’s tenure, Labour’s lead in the polls skyrocketed to a staggering 30-point advantage at one point. Rishi Sunak, who succeeded Truss as Prime Minister, has since been working to reduce this gap and restore the Conservatives’ standing in the eyes of the electorate.
Rishi Sunak’s polling progress
When Sunak took over as Prime Minister, Labour held a 28-point lead in YouGov’s polling. This gap decreased to around 24 points by the end of the year. In the last few weeks, it appeared that Labour’s lead had further shrunk to approximately 20 points, showing some progress for the Conservatives.
Savante Comres polling
Savante Comres’ polling data echoes YouGov’s findings. Their most recent poll, conducted on the 5th of April, showed Labour with a 17-point lead over the Conservatives, indicating a similar trend of Sunak’s efforts slowly closing the gap.
Ipsos More polling
Ipsos Mori’s latest poll, conducted on the 4th of April, gave Labour a 23-point lead over the Conservatives. Although still a significant gap, it demonstrates a positive shift in Sunak’s favour compared to the lows experienced under Truss’s leadership.
Survations’ most recent poll offers the most optimistic news for the Tories, placing Labour’s lead at about 14 points. If accurate, this would mean that Labour’s lead has roughly halved since Sunak took office, showcasing his progress in rebuilding the Conservative Party’s standing.
The significance of the trajectory
While these numbers may not seem particularly encouraging, the crucial takeaway is the trajectory of the polls. For the first time in at least a year, the Conservatives are witnessing an improvement in their polling numbers. If this trend continues, Sunak may have a chance to stage a comeback and secure a personal mandate at the next election, which is rumoured to be planned for late 2024.
Key policy areas affecting polling
Asylum and immigration
1. Historical context
Traditionally, the Conservatives have performed well in the area of asylum and immigration. Up until the end of 2021, the Tories maintained a comfortable lead over Labour on this issue. However, their lead began to narrow, and by November 2022, Labour had overtaken the Tories, even boasting a ten-point lead at one point.
2. Sunak’s support for Braverman’s illegal migration bill
In an effort to regain ground on the issue of asylum and immigration, Sunak supported Home Secretary Suleilah Braverman’s illegal migration bill. This move appears to have resonated with the public, as the Tories are now neck and neck with Labour on this policy area.
3. The potential impact of the bill on the 2024 election
Well-placed sources have reported that Sunak intends for the new bill to start reducing the number of asylum seekers by autumn 2024. This timing is significant, as it’s part of the reason Sunak wants to hold the election then. If the bill is successful in reducing asylum seekers, it could help the Conservatives regain the upper hand in this key policy area.
1. Historical context
The economy is another area where the Conservatives typically outperform Labour. Following the 2019 election, the Tories held a significant lead on this issue. However, the situation changed after Liz Truss’s mini-budget, which led the public to view Labour as more trustworthy on the economy, with a 17-point lead at one point.
2. The mini-budget and its aftermath
Truss’s mini-budget had severe consequences for the Conservatives, with Labour’s lead on the economy growing to unprecedented levels. The Tories faced an uphill battle to regain the public’s trust on this critical issue.
3. The tightening of the gap between Labour and the Conservatives
Under Sunak’s leadership, the gap between the two parties on the economy has started to close. Labour now holds only a 3-point lead, which signals that the Conservatives are beginning to recover in this policy area.
4. The role of the economy in the 2024 election
As the UK’s economic situation is expected to improve gradually over the next couple of years, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt may introduce policies aimed at reducing the financial burden on families. This improvement in the economy could play a significant role in the 2024 election. If the public feels more confident about the economy, they are more likely to trust the Tories, increasing their chances of winning the election.
Caveats and conclusion
The uncertainty of the polling trajectory
While the recent improvement in polling numbers for the Conservatives is a positive sign, it’s essential to acknowledge the inherent uncertainty in polling trajectories. The Tories’ upward trend may not necessarily continue, and their numbers could drop significantly in the coming months. It’s crucial not to read too much into these early indications, as the political landscape remains volatile.
The potential path to victory for the Tories
Despite the challenges they face, there is a potential path to victory for the Tories in the next election. Sunak’s leadership has shown some promise in addressing key policy areas that matter to the public, such as immigration and the economy. If he can maintain the upward trajectory in these areas and continue to close the gap between the Conservatives and Labour, there’s a chance that the Tories could secure a win in the 2024 election.
The importance of Sunak’s performance on key policy areas
Ultimately, the success of the Conservatives in the next election will largely depend on Sunak’s ability to perform well on key policy areas. By addressing the public’s concerns about immigration and the economy, Sunak can help rebuild trust in his party and improve their standing in the polls. It’s essential for Sunak to tread carefully and focus on these critical issues to ensure a continued upward trajectory in the polls and increase his chances of securing a personal mandate in the next election.