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Sunak plays down dire poll figures amid warnings of election wipeout

PA News

Rishi Sunak has played down polling suggesting that the Tories could be on course for a 1997-style wipeout at the next general election.

It comes after a major opinion poll indicated Labour could be on course for a 120-seat majority in the election expected later this year.

A YouGov survey of 14,000 people indicates that the Prime Minister’s party could hold on to as few as 169 seats as Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour enters Downing Street with 385.

The polling, reported by the Telegraph, indicated that every so-called “red wall” seat won by Boris Johnson in 2019 could be lost at the general election this year.

Speaking in Essex, Mr Sunak insisted that the only poll that matters “is the one when the general election comes”.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt could be one of 11 Cabinet ministers to lose their seats in what would be the biggest collapse in support for a governing party since 1906, according to the newspaper.

Mr Sunak told broadcasters: “There have been lots of polls over the last year, there will be hundreds more polls.”

“The choice at that election is clear, it’s stick with our plan that is working, it’s delivering change for people, ensuring they can have the peace of mind that there is a brighter future for their children and we can have renewed pride in our country.”

Repeating his latest attack line on Sir Keir Starmer, he said the choice facing voters was the Tories’ plan or “going back to square one” with Labour.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps is also set to be ousted from his Welwyn Hatfield seat, the research suggested.

Mr Shapps insisted the position would change by polling day as the Government’s plans were “starting to work”.

“The world has been through unprecedented times with things like Covid and this war in Europe costing a lot of money,” he told Times Radio.

“But, actually, we do have a plan and that plan is starting to work — inflation being slashed, the number of small boats down by over a third, 36% in fact. So we have a plan which we are working to.”

Asked whether the Tories could turn the current opinion polls around, the Cabinet minister replied: “Absolutely. Look, the reason I think we can turn it around is because at least people know we have got a plan and we are working to it. There isn’t a plan under Labour.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The research, using the multi-level regression and post-stratification (MRP) method, was commissioned by a group of Tory donors working with former Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost.

The MRP technique is a way of producing estimates of opinion and attitudes for small, defined geographic areas such as parliamentary constituencies.

Lord Frost said: “These MRP polls have huge samples and give us detailed constituency-level data. They don’t rely on the same sort of back-of-an-envelope extrapolations to get seat results from the headline number. They have a track record of accuracy.

“This poll shows we are going to lose, and lose bad, unless we do something about it.”

He said: “There is only one way to rescue the position and bring back those 2019 voters who have left us.

“It is to be as tough as it takes on immigration, reverse the debilitating increases in tax, end the renewables tax on energy costs – and much more.”

Sir Simon Clarke, who was a Cabinet minister under Liz Truss, said the result suggested by the poll would be a “disaster”.

“The time for half measures is over,” he said. “We either deliver on small boats or we will be destroyed.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The deep divisions within the Tory ranks will be exposed this week as the Safety of Rwanda Bill makes its way through the Commons, with Mr Sunak under pressure from the Tory right to make the legislation tougher.

But any significant changes are likely to be resisted by Conservative centrists, who are uneasy about the prospect of sidelining international conventions and human rights provisions.

According to the YouGov research, other top Tories said to be on course to lose their seats are Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt and Attorney General Victoria Prentis.

The poll suggests the Liberal Democrats would win 48 seats – also similar to their 1997 haul – making them the third biggest party once again, with the SNP falling to 25 seats.

The Greens would hold on to their Brighton Pavilion seat, without making any further gains – although they come incredibly close in Bristol Central at 38% to Labour’s 40%, according to the YouGov model.

Nigel Farage-linked Reform UK would fail to win any seats, as the Brexit Party and Ukip did in 2019 and 2017 respectively.

– YouGov interviewed 14,110 adults across the country between December 12, 2023 and January 4, 2024. Constituency-level forecasts were estimated using the same method which YouGov used to predict the 2017 and 2019 UK general elections.

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