Rishi Sunak Will Find It "Extremely Difficult" To Win Next General Election, Says Leading Pollster
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer (Alamy)
Leading pollster Sir John Curtice has found that the Conservative party has lost support with every part of the population, meaning it will be "extremely difficult" for Rishi Sunak to win the next general election.
Curtice, a Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde and Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Social Research, said on Wednesday that Labour is the clear favourite to lead the next government because the public now believes the Tories "cannot be trusted to run the country".
A general election must be called by December 2024, five years after the Conservatives won a landslide 80-seat majority, but the government could decide to go to the polls earlier with the support of MPs.
Curtice said that there was a huge gap between Sunak's popularity and that of his party, and that the Prime Minister's big challenge is repairing the Tory party's severely-damaged reputation before the country next goes to the polls.
"Sunak is relatively popular and the thing for which he is known is being able to run the economy, for which there does seem to be respect in the wider public," he told reporters on Wednesday.
"The real question is to what extent is Sunak going to be able to transfer his apparent personal popularity into popularity for his party."
Curtice said Sunak's personal ratings make for positive reading for the Prime Minister after he replaced Liz Truss in No 10 last month. While Labour currently have a strong lead against the Conservatives overall, opinion polls currently show that Sunak is seen by the public as a better leader than Labour's Keir Starmer when it comes to handling the economy.
However, the damage done to his party's reputation by Truss's disastrous mini-Budget, plus the hangover from the Boris Johnson 'partygate scandal', means it will nonetheless be "very, very difficult" for Sunak to lead the Conservatives to victory at the next general election, Curtice said.
"It's pretty clear that at the moment, two years out [from the latest point an election could be called], the Labour Party are favourites to win the next general election and perhaps for the first time in this parliament, it looks like they have got a half decent chance of getting an overall majority," he said.
"That is a fundamental change in the political outlook."
He added: "The Conservative party has lost ground across the whole of the electorate and not because they are in favour of a small state, or because they're in favour of Brexit, or the many, many ideological issues we can think of, but because the public in general have decided that they cannot be trusted to run the country.
"When a party loses ground on grounds of competence, it loses ground among everybody.
"They have lost ground in all sections of society and in all parts of the country.
"At the moment, the Tories have a massive repair job across the public as a whole. Targeting [specific groups of voters] only matters when it's close, we are nothing like close."
Curtice offered a glimmer of hope to Sunak – who last week became the UK's third Prime Minister this year – telling reporters that the former chancellor might be able to pull off an unlikely election win if he is able to turn the economy around.
But he warned that Sunak's expected plan to plug the financial blackhole through widespread spending cuts is unlikely to be popular with voters while public services are already under strain.
"No government that has presided over a fiscal crisis has survived at the ballot box," said Curtice.
"You can argue that the Labour Party in 1950 didn't quite get thrown out the first time around, but it didn't survive very long...
"1948, 1967, 1976, 1992, 2008. It's not a happy litany of precedents."
Curtice told reporters that if he was advising Sunak, he would tell him to wait as long as possible before holding a general election as he needs as much time as he can get to repair the Conservative party's image.
The next election must be called by December 2024, and can take place no later than January 2025.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe