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Most People Have "Stopped Listening" To The Tories, Says 2019 Manifesto Writer

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak switching on the Downing Street Christmas lights (Alamy)

4 min read

A majority of voters have "stopped listening" to the Conservatives and the only general election strategy the party has left is trying to scare people about the prospect of a Labour government, an author of the Tory party's last general election manifesto has said.

Rachel Wolf, a founding partner at consultancy Public First, said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had only "one choice" left in his bid to avoid wipeout by Labour at the next general election, which is expected to take place in 2024, and that is make the public feel "more nervous" about electing a Keir Starmer-led government. Labour has not won a general election in nearly 20 years.

“It’s fairly clear that most of the public have stopped listening to the Conservative party," Wolf, who co-wrote the Conservative party's election-winning manifesto four years ago, told a conference hosted by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank on Tuesday.

"In some of what you have seen in the last year, where there has been three semi-identifiable strategies from the Conservative government, there has been a realisation that people aren’t hearing what they have to say.”

She said there was "deep confusion" among voters about what the Tories stand for as a result of the party appointing three different Prime Ministers in quick succession, and a "bewildering array of the different flavours of Conservatism that are possible".

She added that with the Conservative party continuing to poll way behind Labour ahead of the next general election, Sunak has been left with few options but to attack the opposition in hope that it will help improve the Tories' dire ratings.

“Given where [the Tories] are now, and given voters aren’t particularly listening, they have only really have one choice: to try to create situations where people get more nervous about Labour, which is why you’re consistently going to see questions around tax, cost and culture.

"That is going to be the prevailing electoral strategy into next year.”

Wolf predicted the Labour Party would win a majority at the next general election, which she believes will take place in just less than a year from now in autumn 2024. The next general election must be called before the end of 2024, with opinions varying on whether the Prime Minister will decide to go to the polls in the spring or autumn. For many months, opinion polls have consistently given Labour large, double-digit leads. 

Wolf's stark assessment was echoed by Rob Ford, Professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester, who said he believed the Tories' electoral prospects could actually get worse, not improve. He predicted Labour would secure a "large" majority at the next election.

According to Ford, the Conservatives in recent years have demonstrated a "persistent failure" to understand the changing demographics of the public, and are not doing enough to appeal to the UK's increasingly young and socially liberal electorate. 

"[The Tories], to put it bluntly, rely on voters who won’t be around for very long. They are older, less educated and more socially conservative," he said.

"Whereas the voters who are entering the electorate every single year are younger, more socially liberal and increasingly more keen on getting a wisdom tooth out than voting for the Conservatives. If you run the path of demographic change forward over five, seven, eight, ten, fifteen years with that kind of support, the inevitable direction of travel is downwards.”

However, Ford issued a word of warning for Labour, arguing that the "triumph" of a general election victory, which would be the party's first since 2005, could quickly evaporate once it enters government and is faced with a series of major challenges.

“There’s a big risk that the hopes which [Labour] raise up get dashed quite quickly and if they get dashed quite quickly, there are not a lot of strong reasons to imagine that voters will stay in the Labour camp for the long term," Ford told the conference in Westminster.

"They don’t have very strong support for Starmer, they don’t think he’s a very strong leader, they don’t have high levels of partisan attachment like they did in the past."

Ford said the Tories appear to be deliberately "filling the cupboard with poison pills" for Labour to deal with if they enter office, like "unsustainable" public spending cuts and a potential workforce crisis in health and social care triggered by the clamp down on overseas workers visas announced by Home Secretary James Cleverly on Monday.

“You may get a triumph next winter if you’re Labour but that may swiftly turn to ashes as it comes to the task of government," said Ford.

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