Our panel and the leadership race. Did it detect the Mordaunt earthquake first – or set it off?

14 Jul

The ConservativeHome members’ panel seems to appear to a number of commentators and professional pollsters as a discomfiting anomaly: a broken clock that is, somehow, right more than twice a day. Quite a bit more, actually.

As people who perform badly in it are quick to point out, our survey is not a scientifically-weighted poll. But it has a habit of lining up with them – not to mention with the eventual results.

During the last leadership contest, for example, the views of our panellists broadly tallied with those of the party members surveyed by YouGov – whilst getting a little closer to the actual outcome.

This time out, we were the amongst the first to detect a grassroots surge for Penny Mordaunt; she came second to Ben Wallace in our first special survey, and then topped the poll in our second one after he decided not to stand.

At first, it looked as if there was a gap between our findings and those of the pollsters after Opinium put Rishi Sunak in front. But then YouGov came out and, like us, found the Trade Minister routing all comers, topping the list of preferences and winning every head to head.

Nor do the similarities end there. Like us, they find another relatively unknown factor, Kemi Badenoch, in second place – although she runs Mordaunt much closer with our panel than with YouGov’s – and Rishi Sunak in third place.

This is perhaps explained by a rightward or eurosceptic slant amongst the members who take our survey, which would also explain why we found Suella Braverman in fourth place whilst YouGov place her sixth.

Some of the head-to-head findings also match up pretty closely: we had Mordaunt vs Truss at 51/33, YouGov at 55/37; vs Sunak at 58/31, YouGov at 67/28; and vs Tugendhat at 61/23, YouGov 64/26.

Again, the two where we found candidates running the Trade Minister closer than YouGov were the right-wing candidates: we had vs Badenoch at 46/40 against YouGov’s 59/30, and vs Braverman at 50/37 against YouGov’s 63/25.

Did we simply detect a latent surge for Mordaunt before anyone else? Or did our initial survey results shape the early stages of the race? It will be difficult to prove it either way – and when it comes to the question of whether the survey is worth paying attention to, it doesn’t really matter.

But Mordaunt’s surprise performance isn’t the only story in town. There’s also Rishi Sunak’s poor showing with the members.

Of the candidates still standing, YouGov find the Chancellor losing to Badenoch, Mordaunt, Truss, and Tugendhat, and within the margin of error against Braverman; we have him losing to Badenoch, Braverman, Mordaunt, and Truss, but beating Tugendhat.

Again, the divergence could be explained if our panel skews rightwards – we also have Badenoch beating Sunak by a much bigger margin than YouGov, for example.

But the broad picture is still of a candidate who looks very badly prepared for the second round, and that will doubtless weigh on the minds of MPs as they try to work out who is best place to defeat whoever emerges as the candidate of the right.

Of course, it’s early days yet. There is still a week of MP voting to go before we see who’s whittled down to the final two, and the results could yet surprise everyone.

But whether we’re detecting the landslides or setting them off, the ConservativeHome Members’ Panel seems to be (infuriatingly, I’m sure) on the money so far.

The post Our panel and the leadership race. Did it detect the Mordaunt earthquake first – or set it off? appeared first on Conservative Home.

James Johnson: Good news for the Conservatives. The Prime Minister’s brand is trashed – but theirs isn’t.

27 Apr

James Johnson is co-founder of the pollster JL Partners, and formerly ran polling for Downing Street.

I spent most of last year telling disappointed journalists that the public still like Boris Johnson.

Whether it were Covid lockdowns, Owen Paterson, tax rises, fuel shortages, government contracts, or Downing Street wallpaper, I would get an excited call asking if the game was finally up for Johnson with the public.

Each time, my message was the same.

Though there might be ups and downs, the polling and the focus groups were fundamentally unchanged. People who voted Conservative before were still going to vote Conservative, and Johnson was still getting the benefit of the doubt in what people saw as a tricky situation under the pressure of a pandemic.

Now, everything has changed. In mid-January, as Partygate reached its peak, the public’s patience snapped.

Not so much because of the parties themselves, but because of what they saw and still see as repeated lying and cover-up by the Prime Minister and those around him.

They felt taken for fools, lied to, and mocked by a politician they had liked. They were no longer laughing with the Prime Minister: he was laughing at them.

I wrote up these responses at the time, from focus groups in Cheltenham and Bolton North East. They show the damage done to Johnson, not just on trust but on his strength and competence too.

The Prime Minister was described – by Conservative voters – as “a coward”. He was someone who “was a bit different to the David Cameron, Eton-education typical Tory” but had now “completely lost everyone’s trust”. The once strongman who got Brexit done was now someone who “lacks gravitas” and “has got to go”.

Despite the war in Ukraine, that fury did not fade. While some commentators were heralding a polling boost to Johnson in February and March, the message from the focus groups remained bleak.

It is not just trust that is lost in Johnson. The line from a recent focus group that stands out most for me is from a first-time Conservative voter. He despaired that “Margaret Thatcher would never have had those parties. She was strong and would have told them to stop”.

Labour remains a stretch for him, but he said he would not vote for the Tories while Johnson remains leader.

This is what is so damaging about Johnson’s position. His best assets in 2019 have now become his weaknesses.

Voters in the Red Wall liked him because he was strong, because he could get things done, and even if it might upset a few people he would ultimately deliver. That view is now fatally undermined. Now Starmer leads Johnson on “knows how to get things done” and “strong”.

Even if Partygate goes away or people tire of it, the brand damage will not. If it did not improve over the last three months, with a war in which Britain led the world and Johnson backed by his MPs for most of the period, why should it recover with more fines, the Gray report, and a parliamentary inquiry to come?

The situation is serious: Labour have now closed the gap on the economy, Starmer has an eight-point lead over Johnson on who would be the best Prime Minister in a way that Miliband and Corbyn never did, and Labour are ahead on voting intention.

There is an additional paradoxical danger: there is a possibility the local elections go better for the Tories than expected.

This should not be taken as a vindication of Johnson. Change will be on 2018, not December 2019, and many places are not voting. Add in the fact that local Conservatives have a strong message on council tax in London, and the results could obscure just how bad the picture is for the Tories nationally.

Come 2024, the Party does not need to lose by a Major-style landslide to forfeit power: they can lose their majority while being ahead on votes. Under their current leader, they risk sleepwalking to electoral defeat.

There is one silver lining to all of this for Conservatives. Voters’ scathing commentary, at the moment, is reserved for the Prime Minister rather than the wider party. Without Johnson, it is possible to see a significant transformation to the Party’s electoral fortunes, especially with Labour still floundering to seal the deal with voters.

Our system may be parliamentary, but the way voters view the parties is presidential. How a party is seen on a range of issues – for example on economy, crime, or housing – depends on how much people think the leader of the party can be trusted and can deliver.

A commonly used polling question is one that asks people to say whether they trust Labour or the Conservatives more on a given issue. A recent YouGov poll found the Conservatives behind Labour on every issue apart from defence and terrorism.

But ask the same question in a focus group – face to face with voters – and with the exception of the economy, you get blank faces in response.

People literally cannot answer, because they do not know the ins and outs of Conservative or Labour positions on each policy area. They just know whether they feel they can or cannot trust that party and their leader to deliver.

As the YouGov poll shows, currently this phenomenon is disadvantaging the Conservatives.

Take the Rwanda plan on immigration: though popular with the voters Johnson needs, it fails to resonate with voters because it is Johnson’s policy. As one voter in a recent focus group in Crawley put it to me, how can we know it will even happen?

But this can equally mean that with a new leader, the Tories can swing back on many of these issues. There is no deep-seated hostility to the Conservative Party as a whole amongst voters – certainly nothing like there was in the 1990s. The Conservative brand is not tainted beyond repair.

What of the contenders? The Prime Minister’s defenders say that the party cannot make a change, as there is a lack of viable choices available.

But recent YouGov polling found that every prominent Cabinet minister – with the exception of Priti Patel – has a higher approval rating than Johnson.

Conservative members, often touted as the most loyal to Johnson, agree. This website’s own Cabinet rankings table show many Cabinet ministers are ahead of Johnson, with Liz Truss, Ben Wallace and Nadhim Zahawi scoring best. That is before getting onto talent outside of the Cabinet, like Penny Mourdant or Tom Tugendhat.

I am a pollster. I report – without any sugar-coating – what the British public think. But I am also a Conservative. I want the party to succeed. It is now at risk of failure.

The Tory brand has the potential to be reborn. But it is now, in a way it was not before this January, smothered by its leader who is seen by the public as a rule-breaker and a liar who can no longer deliver.

Number Ten say that Conservatives must rally around the Prime Minister. But every time MPs do, the more the yoke of his toxicity risks strangling the Party’s wider electability. Already I have noticed focus group attendees singling out ministers for defending Johnson on the airwaves.

Number Ten say there are no other choices. But come a leadership contest different views and visions would fizz to the surface, giving MPs a clear choice ahead of the next general election – and a new leader would give the Party a fresh hearing with the country.

Number Ten say removing Johnson would guarantee electoral defeat. But everything about public opinion suggests the opposite is true. It is doing what Downing Street says – keeping the Prime Minister – that is the gamble, not removing him.

Will Conservative MPs take the one-way road, fraught with danger, by sticking with Johnson? Or will they salvage the Conservative brand while they still can

James Frayne: The Ukraine Crisis. Has it saved Johnson’s bacon?

15 Mar

Two weeks ago, polls showed the British public favoured tough sanctions on Russia. Indeed, they favoured tougher sanctions than the government was then implementing. But they also opposed direct involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. They expected the war to affect them personally and for life to become more difficult. There was also no discernible impact on electoral politics. How has opinion moved since then?

YouGov’s excellent conflict polling shows people appear more resigned to the war affecting their own lives. Very large majorities think energy and food prices will rise and a majority thinks taxes will rise too. Shockingly, a significant minority – 21% – even believes a nuclear attack is likely (although the gender gap here is remarkable, with women thinking an atomic strike is much more probable). Separately, consumer confidence is dropping and there is evidence the public are becoming unhappy and anxious.

It’s hard to say but attitudes on sanctions seem to be hardening. By 67% to 10%, people don’t believe Western countries are doing enough – via sanctions, supplying weapons, and other means – to stop Russia winning the war. Admittedly, this is a slightly different question than “do you support sanctions?”, but there nonetheless remains scepticism about anything that might drag NATO countries into direct confrontation with Russia. By 39% to 28%, people oppose trying to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, with the rest unsure.

Presumably, as people have watched horrifying pictures of refugees fleeing their homes, threatened by death or injury as they do, the number of British people agreeing we should set up a scheme to resettle Ukrainian refugees has risen. Whereas it was 63% a fortnight ago, it is 75% now. Similarly, the number of refugees people think Britain should accept has risen. Two weeks ago, just 15% said we should settle a few hundreds of thousands (with most saying we should accept fewer): it has now reached 25%.

Unsurprisingly, and of a piece with practically every recent poll, Ipsos-Mori have the public divided on how the Government has handled the crisis. 36% say the Government has done a good job, compared to 26% who say it has done badly (with 31% saying neither). There are similar numbers for Boris Johnson’s handling of the crisis.

As trivial as this might seem against the enormity of the tragedy in Ukraine, this does provide an opportunity to deal with the distasteful question of the war’s impact on electoral politics. Nobody said analysing public opinion was glamorous.

Practically all the polls were heading in the wrong direction for the Government a few weeks ago. Although the picture is complex and changing, the bottom line appears to be that the crisis has halted the slide in the Government’s and the PM’s ratings.

Caveated by the fact it is too early to say whether this is a meaningful trend, we can see the following: Government approval ratings and the PM’s ratings are no longer falling. Alongside this, the gap between Johnson and Starmer on who would make the best PM and the gap between the Conservatives and Labour on headline voting intention has been narrowing (although the last poll showed a minor increase in Labour’s lead, which might be a blip).

On the publication of new polling, Ipsos-Mori made a similar point, pointing out Boris Johnson’s personal ratings have risen to “pre partygate levels”, along with his scores on various personality traits. Compared to February, Johnson achieves increases across being ‘good in a crisis’ (+4pts), a ‘strong leader’ (+4pts), a ‘capable leader’ (+5pts), putting country first (+6pts), paying attention to detail (+4pts) and being a ‘Prime Minister I am proud of’ (+4 pts).” (Interestingly, Redfield & Wilton show the opposite).

What can we conclude from all this? Three things stand out.

Firstly, on the crisis specifically, the public are settling into a firm position of: sanctions yes, direct conflict no. The fact there were such high numbers saying “don’t know” on the issue of the no-fly zone might imply an increasing understanding of the dangers of escalating our military presence. Two weeks ago, while people were cautious about direct involvement, they appeared to have no real sense of the limits of what the Russians might tolerate. After Putin’s effective nuclear threat, people are much more cautious about poking the bear.

Secondly, politically-speaking, the Government and the PM are thought to be handling this well. It’s not credible to imagine the crisis would turn politics on its head; the discontent expressed in the Government’s and the PM’s ratings this winter was so dramatic that a full recovery was never going to happen. The fact the ratings slide has stopped implies significant public approval.

Whether this trend continues is hard to say. Currently, it seems likely that they will have closed the gap for the medium-term. As I have said previously, while I doubt the PM can turn things round, there is a path.

Thirdly, on issues, the public might no longer so intensely blame the Government for a decline in living standards. We’re miles away from being able to say for sure, but as the public are saying very clearly that they expect energy and food costs to rise, and given their support for sanctions, it’s possible they will conclude that global events and trends are to blame – and not the Government.

Had the crisis not happened, the Government would not unreasonably have argued rising costs were a global phenomenon post-Covid. But it’s hard to imagine this would have cut through. This conflict will now make people listen to this point more carefully. We’ll see where this goes, but, if the view that the squeeze is unavoidable takes hold, it will massively strengthen the Government’s hand. Incidentally, it will also do Rishi Sunak’s personal ambitions no harm.

Gabriel Milland: Ignore the climate change sceptics. They speak only for themselves – not the mass of centre right and Red Wall voters.

1 Nov

Gabriel Milland is a Partner at Portland Communications. He was a temporary special advisor in Downing Street for the first five months of the pandemic last year.

The voices on the Conservative right demanding that COP26 be the moment that Boris Johnson ditch greenery can and should be ignored.

Not just because the same sort of scientific consensus in favour of Covid vaccinations and against letting the virus rip says that attempting to decarbonise the world’s economy is necessary. But also because the politics demands it.

Those are the findings of a comprehensive new poll that Portland Communications carried out last week. While some want to believe that “traditionally-minded” Tory voters – and new converts in the Red Wall – wish that the Prime Minister would shut up about carbon, our poll found that only six per cent of 2019 Conservative voters think he should talk less about climate change and instead “talk about things that matter to me more”.

This is not a function of the bulk of the Tory vote still being more affluent and more willing to spend money. Just 10 per cent of those earning between £15,000 and £35,000 a year – the C1C2D voters who gave Johnson his majority last year – wish that he would shut up about green issues. Nor is it due to any environmentalist youthquake. Just eight per cent of over-65s agree with this statement

If there is criticism of him among Conservative voters, it appears to be that he is not interested enough, or people who worry that he is only paying lip-service. A combined 49 per cent of Tory 2019 voters subscribe to these views. Meanwhile exactly a third of Conservative 2019 voters – 33 per cent – agree that Labour is right to want to spend more on policies like Net Zero.

This matches what I have picked up in focus groups in recent times. Groups held with Tory activists in deepest Surrey revealed a tribe who had become passionate supporters of greenery. The reason? Many of them were keen gardeners who had noticed things were starting to bloom in late December while summers turned lush sanctuaries into scorched savannahs. 

The trouble for those who want to throw the Net Zero revolution into reverse – and seem to think that a referendum is the right way to do it – is not just that this is not a binary. It is also the fact that so very few people see this as an issue where there is much debate. And making bad things more expensive seems a reasonable way of going about the task in hand. Climate scepticism, to most, is a deeply eccentric view.

I share the view that a collapse in the Blue Wall is unlikely yet to present an existential electoral threat to the Prime Minister’s “Brexity social democrat” coalition. But it could make a majority harder to get. When asked “would you ever consider voting for a party that had the environment as its main issue, like the Green Party, in a general election?, 37 per cent of Conservative 2019 voters say yes.

People are much more likely to say they might consider doing something than not. However, this is a number which should give Tory strategists cause for concern. The most popular reason why was “by voting for a party like this I would show the other parties that they need to change”.

Numbers for Labour “green considerers” are much higher – at 58 per cent. That might suggest – for Labour – the views of a substantial number of disenchanted Corbynites. But not all of them are. Only 37 per cent of that cohort of Labour voters said the reason they might vote more greenly was that Labour had become too like the Tories. The rest will be green-ish “normals” who could yet ditch Red for Blue, especially Blues with a pragmatic and parsimonious attitude, while Labour offers only higher taxes.

Were the Green Party itself not in such deep thrall to crankdom and so heavily associated in the public mind with unpopular protest ,then there would be little to stop it reaching German levels of popularity. But that is not the Green Party we have, or are ever likely to get. 

The key problem is money, of course. Just seven per cent of our sample said “my family and me, and other families like mine” should pay most of the cost of going green. Business, the government and the Chinese are all far out in front. And fewer than half in our sample are willing to pay more than an extra £50 a month on top of current bills to reduce carbon. Twenty-two per cent said “nothing”.

Public opinion is the Ming vase which the Prime Minister must carry in the direction of 2050. But he is determined to do so. Talk to those who have spoken about it with him and they speak of a leader who sees Net Zero as key to much of what he wants to do – from levelling up via green investment to making something concrete out of “Global Britain”.

But ignore all that, and even the science behind the target, and the politics still make a very strong case. An increasing number of businesses understand this, which is why they are spending an increasing amount of money and time on “sustainability”, and will need to do much more to understand their role in changes which will be happening. If the Conservative Party won’t make halting climate chage one of its missions, there will be others who will offer to do so – and get a hearing.

James Frayne: Johnson’s headroom to raise taxes, in the wake of the new levy, has been dramatically reduced

14 Sep

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

A few weeks ago, opinion polls showed three to one support for a national insurance rise to pay for social care. It’s hard to say for sure where the numbers on this question are now, but the evidence is they’ve moved considerably against the Government (although not irretrievably).

Some suggest that the mess in the media flipped the polls against the Conservatives and put Labour ahead; I think there’s much more to it than this but it clearly didn’t help.

So what went wrong? What were the alternatives that the Government should have considered? And what are the medium-term implications for the Conservatives?

Admittedly, I haven’t tested my sense in detail yet, but it is that three reasons help explain the the shift against the national insurance announcement.

First, and most importantly, it became clear that revenue raised by this higher tax won’t be ringfenced for social care. After a day or two of briefing that higher taxes would pay for care, the Government clarified that revenue raised would also pay for the hole in the NHS finances created by Covid.

Ordinarily, adding the letters “NHS” to a political message adds several points to a political message (ask Vote Leave). Here, it simply made people think (rightly) that pretty much all revenue raised would go into the great bottomless pit of NHS finances. It’s not that people don’t love the NHS; nor that they want to change the way the NHS is funded. It’s just that they quickly realised the Government wasn’t making a social care announcement but a debt repayment announcement.

Second, people got out their calculators quicker than I can ever recall – with the extra they’d pay pushed around widely by the likes of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Politicians have long liked using national insurance as a tax-raising device; not only does it have perfect branding for health and social care announcements, but even people on PAYE – who see the national insurance line on their payslip each week – inexplicably find it less offensive than income tax. This time, a combination of media and social media scrutiny showed people what they’d be paying, and its transparency felt like a council tax rise.

Third, the announcement was too detached from the policy conversation on social care. People care deeply about it, as the Conservatives discovered to their cost during the 2017 election; social care is regularly raised as an issue in focus groups without prompting.

But it’s a complex area, and the Government would have done well to have reheated the policy conversation on social care for several weeks before springing this announcement on the public. Ordinarily, for a policy announcement of this magnitude, you’d expect (some) cross-party support, endorsements by experts from the sector, a formal announcement with the Health Secretary flanked by care workers and all the rest. This time, there was nothing.

Two alternatives would have been better.

The Government could have announced that the country was going to have to cope with a few years of financial pain via higher taxes to pay off Covid debts – and not to have beamed in on social care at all.

I don’t understand why they didn’t do this. Polls have consistently showed the public supported the massive crisis payments to the NHS and furloughed workers. They’re well aware this led to massive debt and they’re also aware debt must be paid off – at least in part with higher taxes.

They would have completely accepted a straightforward explanation that taxes were going to rise – for everyone – to deal with this. Sunset clauses would have made this all go down better, but there’s something in the English psychology that revels in harsh, shared sacrifice. It was a huge, missed opportunity; it’s possible that the Government would even have secured a bounce from it (assuming they said they were going to tackle waste at the same time).

The alternative option would have simply been to have announced a smaller national insurance rise and explained it was going to be strictly ringfenced for social care. This would have given them the option to raise taxes again later. Wrapping social care, the NHS and Covid debt repayment looked shifty and ill-thought-through.

What are the implications for the Conservatives? It’s been said all this undermines the Party’s reputation as a low-tax party. I don’t think this is quite right; most of the public have rightly not viewed the Conservatives as a low-tax party for many, many years, but rather as a lower tax party than Labour.

There are worse things to be: in 2019, this contrast certainly made lower middle voters even more wary of Jeremy Corbyn. But it means that the sort of messages the Conservatives pump out at the annual party conference – around low tax, free enterprise, a small state etc – have zero traction with the public. (It’s weird to think that until a few years ago the party’s logo was a torch of freedom; the rainbow associated with the NHS would be more appropriate.)

If Corbyn were still Labour leader, it’s possible that the Conservatives would have retained this lower-tax advantage regardless of national insurance. Under Starmer, I think it’s reasonable to assume this advantage will no longer be there.

In turn, all there will be to choose between the Conservatives and Labour on the economy will be competence and stability – in the Conservatives’ case, because they’re in Government, this will be defined entirely by delivery. In other words, if the economy appears stable and grows, they’ll be fine; if not, they’ll be in a mess.

It also means that the party’s freedom on other issues is dramatically reduced. There’s no way now the Government can introduce any new tax rises; at that point, their polling numbers really would go off a cliff; everything now needs to be revenue neutral, with taxes raised balanced out by taxes cut. Most obviously, this somewhat complicates their Net Zero strategy; you would have expected fiscal policy increasingly to have rebalanced towards green taxes.

It’s far too early to start trying to read the future from yesterday’s polling

11 Sep

It’s just one poll, and all that. Nonetheless, the news that the Conservatives have fallen to their lowest recorded result since the 2019 election – and thus, behind Labour – will be doing nothing for the mood of the Tory Party in the aftermath of the Prime Minister’s manifesto-busting tax hike.

But fun as it is to read the future in the entrails of chickens, it is far to soon to tell what precisely lies behind this shift – or even whether its a sustained fall, as opposed to a blip. Indeed, another poll out yesterday finds a four-point Tory lead.

After all, the Politico poll of polls finds that the gap between the Government and the Opposition has been gradually closing for some time. It may simply be that as the sense of crisis around Covid-19 recedes, we’re returning to something more like politics as normal, when we’d expect Labour to be doing better at this point in the cycle.

Even assuming that there has been an acute fall in support, it might not owe directly to this week’s events. Perhaps the shambolic exit from Afghanistan, and the spectacle of the Defence and Foreign Secretaries taking lumps out of each other in public, has affected voters’ perceptions of the Government. Perhaps it stems from George Eustice’s bloody-handed resolution of the Geronimo circus.

More plausibly, several days of stories about the Government’s failure to get a grip on Channel crossings, and the Home Office’s apparent helplessness in the face of French intransigence, won’t have helped.

And despite all the hue and cry from the conservative papers about the National Insurance hike, we shouldn’t rule out the fall actually owing to Rishi Sunak’s entirely correct decision to break the pensions triple lock rather than hand older voters an unmerited eight per cent increase arising from the collapse of wages during the pandemic.

Even if people are angry about the tax rise, the question remains: why are they angry? Is it simply an aversion to high taxes? The fact that it breaks a manifesto commitment? The fact it purports to be ‘solving’ social care but will in fact mostly be swallowed up by the Charybdis that is the NHS budget?

From this close, it is simply impossible to say. And as Twitter wags enjoy pointing out, commentators who get too caught up in the moment risk looking foolish a year out. Can you remember which event in 2020 was billed by one as Boris Johnson’s ‘Black Wednesday moment’? No, nor I.

Nick King: Luntz’s polling shows a crisis of confidence in capitalism. Here’s how we can change that.

8 Jul

Nick King is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies.

The recent survey work conducted by Dr Frank Luntz on behalf of the Centre for Policy Studies think tank was some of the most extensive ever undertaken in the UK. It is no surprise, then, that it has been the subject of media attention and scrutiny for days, with an array of organisations poring over its findings and implications.

Their attention has mainly been focused on the publics disillusionment with the political class, our increasing polarisation as a country and the rising division between the woke and the anti-woke.

Equally concerning, though less commented on, have been Luntzs findings in relation to capitalism, enterprise and business all of which, I am sorry to say, the public seem to take a pretty dim view of.

ConservativeHome readers might point out – when asked their opinion of British business – that our firms create jobs and opportunities, provide salaries to their employees, pay billions in taxes, are innovative and socially responsible. But Luntzs poll found that the associations that spring to mind for most people are about profit over people, tax avoidance or excessive CEO pay.

This cynicism was all the clearer when voters were asked what business and economic leaders care most about. The British public chose making as much money as possible for themselvesand using loopholes to pay as little in tax as possibleas their second and third most popular answers. Only making a profit for their companies and shareholderswas more frequently pointed to. But before anyone takes too much comfort from the publics familiarity with s172 of the Companies Act, I should point out that I am not sure that those polled meant it in a good way.

To those of us who are supportive of free and open markets, this rings serious alarms bells. Not least because it’s the latest example in a worrying trend. Similar notes of caution were struck by a report published this week by the Institute of Economic Affairs entitled Left Turn Ahead? It points to widespread distrust of business and capitalism among the young almost three quarters of whom think our current economic system fuels racism, greed and exploitation. Crucially, the report argued that this sentiment no longer diminishes with age.

Luntzs findings suggest that the British public has fallen out out of love with business and that they are not convinced its a cause worth fighting for. A majority of voters even agreed with the statement: “When I look at the corporate leaders and how they treat us, I just think ‘f*** them all’.” Although at least business executives can console themselves that they fared slightly better than the politicians.

I wholeheartedly disagree with such attitudes. Britain has so many great businesses, and it needs more of them. Businesses create the jobs and wealth and innovation that keep this country going.

But it is clear that if we going to convince the public to change their minds, we need to carefully consider the terrain on which we are fighting and the battles which will win the war. Here are some ideas:

First, as Luntz has consistently pointed out over his long and distinguished career, language matters. Capitalism is unpopular. But to many of capitalism’s advocates, terms like free enterprise and open markets can be used interchangeably with it – and other polling suggests these concepts are more favourably received. If a phrase is more appealing than capitalism to those who reject it as a concept, then it makes sense for those who believe in the benefits of this system to adopt the language which people more readily accept.

Second, we need link the benefits of the economic system to individuals’ lives and livelihoods in the most direct way possible. Those surveyed by Luntz and the CPS were clear that they prefer the term “employers” to “companies” (and both, overwhelmingly, to “corporations”), as well as “employees” to “workers”. This suggests they want a sense of participation and reciprocity – something which comes out more generally in the polling. Again, it makes sense to adopt this language and point out the symbiotic relationship between employers and employees as far as possible.

Third – and this is not something brought out in the survey – we should talk more about the sorts of businesses people are typically more supportive of. As previous work I have undertaken at the CPS demonstrates, people are far more positively inclined towards the sorts of small and family businesses which make up the vast majority of companies within the UK. When trying to convince people of the value of businesses we should “think small” wherever possible.

Finally, we need to remind people of the role businesses play in society. This is not a plea for businesses to publish well-intentioned but often meaningless ESG strategies. Nor is it a suggestion that businesses should demonstrate their right-on credentials – the British people left Luntz in no doubt that they did not want business leaders weighing in on culture wars. But it is a suggestion that we draw out the link between business and the things the British people care about all the more clearly.

When asked the fundamental purpose of the economy and presented with a dozen options, more than a third of those asked responded “to pay for public services like the NHS”. It might not be the purpose I would pick, but the British public are absolutely right to draw a link between businesses and the revenue needed for the proper running of our public services. So lets remind them of the link whenever we can.

All is not lost. Luntzs polling data also showed that most voters (especially Conservative ones) put a value on hard work and that they think success in this country is typically earned and deserved. But the survey presented a fascinating and sobering insight into the crisis of confidence in capitalism which this country faces. If we do not heed its lessons, we will be faced with a crisis not just in confidence, but in capitalism itself.

James Frayne: How will the aftermath of Clapham Common affect the public standing of the police?

16 Mar

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

A few weeks ago, I looked at public attitudes to the police. Given events in Clapham at the weekend – where the police forcibly broke up the vigil to mark the death of local resident Sarah Everard – I thought it was worth returning to.

Priti Patel has already demanded a full explanation, and quite a few people are calling for Cressida Dick to go. What effect will all this have on the reputation of the police amongst the broader English population? (Clearly, restrictions are in place on reporting/analysing this case, so there’s a lot that can’t be said here).

In judging this overall question, we must ask the following.

Firstly, will the public view police action through the prism of Covid control, as the police claim? Secondly, more importantly and fundamentally, will they consider the vigil to have been about something other than the appalling and tragic death of a young woman? Will they think this event was saying something important about women’s safety and women in society – and therefore that the police were effectively operating in a hostile manner, on the wrong side of a moral issue?

On the first, early polling suggests the public are split. YouGov released a snap poll yesterday showing the public very narrowly thought the vigil should not have been allowed to have gone ahead, by 43-40 percent, with the rest unsure. A second question asked whether vigils and protests should be allowed to go ahead more generally; here, the public were tougher: by 59-26, people said such events should not go ahead. (Obviously, very different questions to whether the vigil should have been broken up).

The different results to quite similar questions are important; they show both that the public are still largely in a “safety first” mentality, but that this case has shocked them so much that many viewed this vigil as a special case. Further polling will reveal the truth, but my sense is that most people will think therefore that, once people had gathered peacefully, the police should have let it continue, and their actions in forcibly breaking it up were insensitive and crass.

(I would also think that most would agree that a sensible, socially-distanced vigil could have been managed).

In judging the handling to have been crass, there is an additional complication for the police. This is that people know very well that the police have let other demonstrations go on without mass arrests or aggressive dispersal. People have seen these events with their own eyes on the media and social media; they have seen the police do nothing at times when the R-rate was much higher and on issues which rightly or wrongly agitated the bulk of the population less.

While the police are obviously in a difficult position in choosing what they allow to go ahead and what they clamp down on, there is more than enough to go on to suggest that they are inconsistent in how they operate.

In short, despite narrow opposition to the event going ahead, I can’t see how most people won’t think that the police ultimately made a mistake; the Covid defence won’t wash.

What then of the more fundamental and complex questions: whether people will think Everard’s death said something very fundamental about our society which should have been marked by the vigil, and which the police should have respected. Were the police – indeed, are the police – on the wrong side of a moral issue? These will really be the questions that really determine whether this will have any serious long-term effect on the reputation of police nationally.

Before answering this, we should look briefly at the YouGov polling again; the results don’t tell us everything, but they’re interesting. Here, we see a significant but not massive difference between men and women on the question as to whether the vigil should have gone ahead: women thought it should go ahead by 42-39 percent; men thought it should not go ahead by 47-38.

On the second question, as to whether vigils and marches generally should go ahead, men and women oppose them equally – by 60-25 and 59-26 respectively. On a third question, about whether Cressida Dick should resign, men and women were basically united in opposition – by 51-26 and 43-20 respectively.

It’s early days and time will tell; however, my sense at this point is that most people – men and women – will mainly view Everard’s death as a once-in-a-generation tragedy: an event that we will be talking about for many decades to come. It will likely provoke a debate about good and evil and the state of our society generally. And in time it will likely provoke extensive concerns about sentencing and punishment.

I don’t think – at this point – that most people will think of it as marking the start of a debate on how society treats women; I suspect her death will be so utterly shocking that it will be in a category on its own. It is possible, of course, that a debate about the treatment of women does begin; but it will begin because this is what political leaders are talking about, rather than necessarily because of what people think. (Allegations about inappropriate behaviour from the police after her death, which are just emerging, might change this).

As such, at this point I would think that the police will not be seen by most people as being on the wrong side of a great moral question.

What does all this mean for public opinion and the police? As I pointed out last time, despite what many media outlets imply, the police are very popular in England and Wales; people think they have handled Covid well and more generally they think they’re “on our side”. While they’re vulnerable to allegations of insensitivity and inconsistency at Clapham, they will not be viewed as displaying the wrong values.

But, as is often the case with these sorts of events, while their reputation will survive this mistake, it will begin to make many people keep an eye on their future behaviour in such a way that, “next time”, they won’t have the benefit of the doubt. After all, as I discussed last time, the polling shows that many people are questioning their priorities and judgement; they aren’t too far away from a more serious slip in public support.

Nick Fletcher: How the Government can and should act now to protect young people from exploitation by porn

19 Oct

Nick Fletcher is MP for Don Valley.

The question of online safety is one of the significant challenges of our times. In the Conservative Party’s 2015 Manifesto, we promised to change the law to require the provision of robust age verification checks on pornographic websites.

The Government of the day then fulfilled this promise through Part Three of the Digital Economy Act 2017. In doing so, become we became the first country in the world to adopt a bold, innovative approach to protect children. Yet despite this, the age verification scheme set out in Part Three is still not in place.

This matters enormously because there is a growing evidence base detailing the effects pornography is having and will continue to have, on young people especially.

For example, a recent study by the British Board of Film Classification suggests that children and teenagers are stumbling across online pornography in some cases as young as seven or eight. More than half of 11-13-year olds reported that they’d seen pornography at some point and 62 per cent of 11-13-year olds who had seen pornography said the first time was ‘accidental’.

This problem is widespread, too. A major study in 2016 by the NSPCC showed more than half of 11-16-year olds had viewed explicit content online.

We also know that watching porn can shape and influence how a young person understands healthy sex and relationships. This is because, as The Children’s Society explains, “people under 18 are still in the stages of cognitive development and may not be able to separate the images they see through pornography and how they act in their everyday life.”

This is demonstrated in polling. For example, a survey by the NSPCC found that more than 87 per cent of boys and 77 per cent of girls surveyed “felt pornography failed to help them understand consent.” Forty-one per cent of young people who knew about porn also agreed it made people less respectful to the opposite sex.

In this context, it is disappointing that we did not persevere to introduce robust age verification controls on online pornography last year. This is particularly poignant, as the UK was poised to become the first country in the world to introduce these controls and take a giant leap forward in the protection of children online not just in the UK but across the world.

MPs and Peers had rigorously debated the impact of age verification. I have to admit that even I had doubts about whether age verification technology would prove effective. Yet having spoken to several policymakers in this field, it is evident that the technology would work.

I am also told that everything was also ready to implement these necessary safeguards. The British Board of Film Classification was appointed the independent regulator in February 2018, and both the Commons and the Lords had approved the age verification scheme.

Yet the Government decided not to proceed with the policy in October 2019, saying that they wanted to deal with children’s access to online porn as part of a new, more comprehensive Online Harms Bill tackling all online harms.

Yet new polling by Savanta ComRes shows that while the public do not object to the proposed Online Harms Bill, they are not wholly satisfied with this arrangement. For example, when asked last month what was closer to their position, 63 per cent of the 2,100+ adults polled said they thought the Government should get on and introduce age verification right away, rather than wait any longer, and implement additional protections against other online harms when they are ready.

Meanwhile, only 21 per cent thought the Government should wait for the new Online Harms Bill to introduce protections against all online harms at the same time. Indeed, when one excludes the ‘don’t knows’ (15 per cent) and looks at those with a firm view, 74 per cent said the Government should get on with implementing Part Three now. This is a position which I also agree with.

Equally, we also must recognise that the world has changed considerably since October 2019. After all, if the Government had implemented Part Three in October last year, children would have been better protected throughout lockdown.

Furthermore, Coronavirus has also presumably stalled the progress of the Online Harms Bill. This is particularly relevant because the decision not to implement Part Three was justified as the new Bill was anticipated to be available in early 2020 for pre-legislative scrutiny. Yet it failed to materialise. In fact, due to the ongoing situation, the Government has not been able to publish its full response to its consultation on its Online Harms White Paper, which closed on 1 July 2019.

In the context of this changing world, the old strategy has therefore been overtaken by events.

Consequently, even if a new bill were published tomorrow, it would still be imperative to implement Part Three immediately because it would take two or three years for a new Bill to be scrutinised and passed and the relevant secondary legislation, developed, scrutinised, passed and then implemented.

The truth is that we can protect children from commercial pornography sites now through Part Three of the Digital Economy Act and should do so. Everything is in place for age verification to be introduced. The necessary legislative framework is there on the statute book. The relevant technology is ready. More importantly, the public wants it. As such, I believe it is imperative that the Government should fulfil its objective to make the UK a world leader in online safety.

Crispin Blunt and Sue Pascoe: It’s time to correct the stoking of alarm and spreading of misinformation about trans people

16 Jul

Crispin Blunt is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT and Rights, and is MP for Reigate. Sue Pascoe is Acting Area Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation in North and East Yorkshire.

As the UK strives for a new global place in the world, it’s important that we place equal weight on our personal freedoms, the prosperity of our communities, and equality and equity of opportunity for our people as we level up our country.

We must not leave any section of our society behind because of misunderstandings, prejudice or fear.  It is the first duty of government to foster an environment where this exists for everyone. We hope as a Party, a Government and members of society that we can each hold out a helping hand to all those who still struggle, who still face the difficulties of daily life, who still cannot be their authentic selves.

Our freedom and our basic humanity are two of the key components of what defines us as individuals. When we cannot be our authentic selves, our freedom and our humanity is taken away from us.

During recent months, we had begun to despair with some sections of the media and its relentless stoking of alarm and spreading of misinformation about trans people. There appear to have been orchestrated campaigns to try and roll back the hard-won rights of not only trans adults but of vulnerable trans young people as well.

We would like to bust some myths.

  • Women and trans people have the same need to live in safety from abuse, sexualharassment and physical violence. Trans women and trans young people are not aninherent threat to women. Sadly, there are a small number of abusive people in thisworld of all genders and measures and efforts should focus on stopping their actions.
  • We are out of step with other countries around the world in adopting rights fortransgender people – from such countries as Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia to many of the states in the US to countries closer to home like Portugal, Belgium and Ireland. United Nations Free and Equal recommends that a range of measures are introduced by states to support transgender people, from legally recognising the gender identity of trans people in official documents through a simple administrative process in line with their lived identity to gender-affirming healthcare services free from stigma and discrimination.
  • The World Health Organisation made clear in 2019 that being transgender is not amental illness, and should not be treated as such.
  • Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.
  • Language respecting the sex in which trans women and trans men live has beencommon decency in Britain since the 1970s, and has been clearly upheld in UK law since 2004.It is never necessary to humiliate or degrade trans people in order to discuss sex and gender or to address health needs or social inequalities.
  • The Equality Act brought in the concept that gender reassignment was a ‘personal process’ rather than a ‘medical one’. Trans people have been accessing single-sex service and facilities in line with their lived identity for many decades,  and with proportionate protection from discrimination since 2010. Misinformation is driving current fear to try and change this. It will remain permitted under the Equality Act to exclude trans women from single sex facilities, such as a woman’s refuge, on a case by case basis, but it would be anathema to British values to attempt to blanket-ban trans people from toilets and shop changing cubicles.
  • Trans people already access services matching their gender under the law, except inrestricted individual circumstances, with all the protections that have been campaigned for to balance rights. This is why we say so much of the campaigning ismisinformed.
  • All that’s been asked for now for GRA reform is a minor change in administrative arrangements for birth certificates that only impacts the holder of the certificate onmarriage, death, getting a job or a mortgage. Can you remember when you last used your birth certificate or even where it is? GRA reform has never had anything to do with toilets or changing room cubicles.
  • Currently, less than 0.03 per cent of under 18s in the UK are referred to gender identity development services, of which only a tiny number may eventually go on to receive puberty-delaying medication for two or three years while under 16.
  • Changes to curtail trans young people’s healthcare could have serious unintended detrimental consequences on wider children’s health services. We have clinical safeguards such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to ensure best evidence-based protocols. ​We must be guided by evidence and clinical experts and not lobby groups to make policy decisions.
  • Only 5,000 trans people currently have a GRC, fewer than 100,000 have changed their driving licence or passport. The numbers remain small and any proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act would only apply to people living permanently in theirgender with all their other ID such as passports or driving licences already changed.

We really wonder if the good people of our great nation realise they are being manipulated through fear and false information to roll-back the basic dignity, privacy and safety of trans people who are just trying to live ordinary lives.

Yes, the bodies and life experiences of trans people will never be identical to those of people who are not trans. But that is not good reason to segregate and demonise them. It is also the same with trans young people. Parents of young people who are struggling with their gender simply want their children to have unconditional love and support – to explore their identity and time to enjoy their childhood with assistance from trusted multi-disciplinary professionals in the field free from political interference. That is the right and humane way forward.

In recent weeks, voices have spoken up from global businesses in the City, global media and entertainment businesses, members from across the Commons and the upper chamber; voices from across all sections of society, from within the LGBT community and its close allies, from faith leaders and parents of trans children but, most of all, from trans people with a simple message.

With one voice, asking for trans inclusion and equality, trans people say: we are just like you, human beings who just wish to go about our lives free from hate and persecution. Be kind, let us love and be loved. Let us be our authentic selves. We are not an ideology to be fought over by others.

The bottom line is most people in the UK do not want to reduce trans people’s inclusion in services or undermine their identities. Polling consistently shows the majority of women support trans women’s inclusion in services and reform of the GRA (see the British Social Attitudes Survey and recent YouGov polling).

Ipsos MORI reported this month that 70 per cent of Britons believe that transgender people face discrimination, with a quarter (26 per cent) saying they face a great deal. We have ended up entangling ourselves in unnecessary scaremongering against trans people at a time when most people want us focused on tackling Covid-19, rebuilding our economy and bringing our society together.

Equality and inclusivity for all is an essential bedrock of our free society. We wish to work towards a society where we treat each other with respect, dignity, compassion, tolerance and understanding. We wish to see policy measures which bring social cohesion, and focus on our common welfare, as we work together to emerge from these troubling times.