Britons are divided but weighted toward the Tories. Could it be the handling of the current crisis putting them in the lead?
By Hannah Lingard: POLITICAL Columnist
A recent poll conducted by YouGov has suggested that the Conservative party has opened up a 13 point lead over Labour.
The poll, conducted between the 3rd and 4th of March, found that if an election was held tomorrow, 45% would support the Conservatives, whilst 32% would vote for Labour. The Liberal Democrats trailed far behind.
This poll is not unique. An Opinium poll held between the 24th and 26th of February found that 43% intended to vote for the Conservatives, even though the same poll revealed that 45% of participants disapproved of the Conservative government’s handling of the pandemic.
There is much to disapprove of. At the time of writing, 140,062 people have died with COVID-19 recorded on their death certificate. This is the fifth highest death toll in the world, despite the UK being the 21st most populated country.
On the 19th of February, a High Court judge ruled that Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, had acted unlawfully when he failed to publish COVID contracts within the 30-day period set by law, thereby avoiding any Parliamentary scrutiny. Reports of government cronyism are widespread. The Conservatives have been heavily criticised for failing to properly award vital COVID contracts. In November 2020, it was widely reported that Alex Bourne, Hancock’s former neighbour, was supplying the government with millions of vials for COVID tests. Bourne’s packaging business usually made plastic cups and food takeaway boxes; it had no experience in medical supply production.
In January the school meal scandal became headline news. As the UK went into its third lockdown and children who would normally receive free school meals were told to stay at home, images of inadequate food parcels appeared across social media. The inadequate food parcels, which were meant to substitute school meals, were met with national outrage.
Reasons for dissatisfaction are plentiful. So how can it be that almost half of the UK population disapprove of the Conservative’s handling of the pandemic, yet they are so far ahead in the polls?
1. The UK Media:
The Daily Mail is the UK’s most read paper. In May 2020, an average of 980,000 copies of the publication were sold a day. The Sun is the UK’s second most read paper. What these papers write matters, as it influences millions of readers. Both papers have a right-wing agenda and write headlines supporting the Conservatives. But their disapproval of Labour is also important. Misleading headlines surrounding the Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer’s, personal wealth is one example. The previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was the recipient of almost constant undermining criticism.
2. A WEAK ALTERNATIVE:
In June 2020, Keir Starmer had been leader of the Labour Party for two months and had the highest opposition leader rating since Tony Blair.
This approval rating has now reduced from 48% to 35% during a period when Starmer has chosen not to speak out against the failings of the Conservative government (on COVID and Brexit). In 2020, the UK saw the most excess deaths since WWII, yet Starmer has arguably failed to capitalise on this and offer an alternative. He has been given the chance to critique the opposition in multiple interviews, but he has failed to do so in any real way.
The UK was the first country in the world to start vaccinating its population against COVID-19. At the time of writing, 21,091,267 doses of vaccinations have been given in the UK. This is undoubtedly an achievement and provides hope that life may soon resemble more “normal” times. The Conservatives have been quick to claim the credit for what has been seen as a successful roll out by the NHS. This contrasts with the lack of blame that attaches for their many failures, such as the UK’s Test and Trace system.
4. The Demise of the Liberal Democrats:
In the 2010 election, the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the vote. In 2019, the party won just 11.5% of the vote. This decline in votes was largely due to the party’s decision to form a coalition with the Conservatives following the 2010 election. During the coalition, the party went against its manifesto on multiple occasions, and this damaged its reputation.
The Liberal Democrats used to provide an alternative middle ground to Labour and, predominantly, the Conservatives. Those who used to support the Liberal Democrats may now abstain from voting or more naturally may support the Conservatives, which helps to explain their lead. Its decline as a party also means there is one less voice criticising the current government.
5. Polls Are Misleading:
The recent poll has created headlines which do not present the whole story. Polls may be based on small samples, who may be self-selected or carefully chosen. The YouGov poll comes with a survey results’ table which provides a more complete understanding but will be read by very few. The poll was based on a small sample of just 1,715 people and only just over 500 said they would vote for the Conservatives.
The table records that 11% of participants said they would not vote, while almost 20% said they didn’t know who they would vote for. There is no information about how the sample was chosen. YouGov was founded in 2010 by Nadhim Zahawi, who is now a Conservative MP. It is important to remember how this might influence YouGov’s agenda and what they promote. For instance, YouGov’s poll synopsis fails to mention that more participants now think it was wrong to leave the EU, compared to those who believe it was the right decision.