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Good morning. The King’s Speech is coming and it will be full of measures designed to draw dividing lines between the government and the opposition. One group of voters in particular will be in Rishi Sunak’s mind. Some thoughts on that in today’s note.
Who is the most important group of voters in the country — at least as far as the Conservative party is concerned? It’s the group of voters who a) backed the Tory party in 2019 but b) now say they either don’t know how they will vote, will not vote or will vote Reform at a general election.
This group matters psychologically. The prospect that they will come back to the Tories, and that Labour’s stunning by-election successes were “only” because Conservative voters didn’t turn out, is part of what stops morale in the parliamentary party from plummeting.
They also matter a great deal politically, because much of what the government is going to do between now and the next election will be conducted with an eye on this group. Rishi Sunak’s plan to allow companies to bid yearly for new North Sea oil and gas licences — revealed by Gill Plimmer and Lucy Fisher — is one such policy. Suella Braverman’s plans to restrict the ability of rough sleepers to use tents — revealed by Peter Foster and Lucy — is another.
Who are the “don’t knows” (23 per cent of Conservative 2019 voters, according to YouGov)? Well, it depends slightly on the pollster, but Patrick English over at YouGov has done the most detailed analysis of this bloc in England and Wales thus far, so let’s go with that.
This group are much more likely to be female than male, but candidly I wouldn’t pay all too much attention to that. Women are much more comfortable telling pollsters they don’t know things. This is a consistent and pretty robust finding — my favourite example of this is that men are almost twice as likely to tell pollsters that they have a plan for the zombie apocalypse than women, even though when you ask follow-up questions such as “do you have a plan to get water, or to move to a secure shelter, or a stockpile of weapons”, it rapidly becomes clear than neither men nor women are well-prepared for a zombie apocalypse.
My instinct here is that we should probably treat the Conservative 2019 voters who say they don’t know how they will vote at the next election and the Conservative voters who say they will vote for Reform as pretty much of a muchness. Certainly, Tory party strategy treats these groups as essentially one and the same and my impression from travelling the country is that strategists are right to do so. (Not least because Reform is not doing anywhere near as well in local or parliamentary by-elections as its polling would suggest.)
What are the other characteristics of these Don’t Knows? Well, the biggest one is that they are older and less connected to the economy than most voters. They are less likely to have mortgages and more likely to be retired.
Note, too, how similar the Don’t Know and Reform voters are to one another, other than the finding that Don’t Knows are much more likely to be female and Reform voters are much more likely to be male.
These groups are essentially the ones that are largely insulated from the economic shocks of the recent past. Though they aren’t insulated from the pressures on the NHS. This is reflected in what issues they care most about.
What would worry me were I a Labour strategist is that beyond having a robust position on crime (which costs money), there is not an awful lot they can do to reach these voters without causing themselves problems elsewhere. These voters really don’t like Keir Starmer and have much more positive views of Sunak and the Conservative party than Tory voters who have already switched.
But what would worry me if I were a Conservative strategist is threefold. The first is that the government’s record on law and order is not good and may well get significantly worse before it gets better given the pressures on the criminal justice system. On immigration and asylum, the issue that matters most to these groups, the Tory party has set itself an impossible task as far as “stopping the boats” is concerned. It may be that even getting one flight to Rwanda resets the mood among these voters, but it may not.
The third thing that would worry me is that these groups alone can’t keep Sunak in Downing Street but they can, if the Conservative party is able to get them to come out and vote for it, prevent Starmer winning a majority. On the whole what most Tory MPs fear more than defeat is the end of the UK’s first past the post electoral system. So any outcome in which Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats — for whom proportional representation features high on the agenda — wield significant influence over the next parliament may well be worse than a straight defeat.
Now try this
Thank you to all the Inside Politics readers who wrote some variation on “Stephen, are you quite sure that How To Have Sex is a comedy?” (I was particularly amused by the reader who managed to identify the precise bit of promotional literature that had led me to believe this. My apologies to anyone I inadvertently misled.)
I went to see Bottoms instead: Emma Seligman’s delightfully gory and profanity-laden high school comedy about two teenage lesbians who set up a “feminist fight club” in a bid to meet girls. It is laden with brilliant jokes of every type, from a very pleasing joke about cinematic conventions in high school movies to a number of gags too profane for this email. Really worth seeing in a cinema the better to enjoy the neat little gags in the set dressing. Wonderful score, too.
I also had a nice lazy Saturday morning reading the FTWeekend. I really enjoyed Fred Studemann on politicians and plagiarism, Imogen Savage on the strange afterlife of a postcard-sized painting by Wassily Kandinsky, and Robert Shrimsley’s column about an AI summit . . . to discuss the biggest threat to their existence, us.
Top stories today
UK business investment lags behind | Jeremy Hunt’s ambitions to bolster UK growth and productivity will falter if he fails to extend key tax breaks aimed at boosting investment, industry has warned ahead of this month’s Autumn Statement.
‘Totally preventable’ street deaths | UK charity leaders have called on Suella Braverman to “urgently reverse” her plan to restrict the use of tents by rough sleepers in urban areas. “At the extreme end we will see an increase in deaths and fatalities which are totally preventable,” they wrote in a letter. “This is not a life people choose.”
Dowden urges ‘robust action’ against intimidation | British Jews are “fearful” and UK society is showing a lack of “moral clarity” about the importance of Jewish lives in the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel last month, the deputy prime minister has said.