Former British Prime Minister David Cameron has recently come under scrutiny for his lobbying of the UK Government on behalf of Greensill Capital, in which Cameron has a commercial interest. But David Cameron is not the only one under fire—some have argued the latest scandal exemplifies what the Labour Party is calling ‘Tory sleaze,’ calling into question the ethics of the Conservative Party and its alleged connections to big businesses. Others have argued that the whole affair was entirely acceptable under the UK’s current rules on lobbying, which allow former civil servants to accept lobbying positions two years after their resignation.
The latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies shows that much of the British public has been following developments surrounding the controversy as they continue to unfold: 50% say they have heard of or followed the news regarding David Cameron’s lobbying of the current UK Government ‘quite a bit’ or ‘a great deal,’ with a further 29% saying they have heard about it to ‘some’ extent. Meanwhile, only 21% say they have ‘not at all’ followed the news about Cameron and Greensill.
Almost half (48%) of respondents who have been following the news of Cameron’s lobbying say they now have a more negative view of David Cameron—including a similar proportion of 2019 Conservative (47%) and Labour (49%) voters. Alternatively, a third (32%) of Britons say their view of David Cameron has not changed, and 12% say they now have a more positive view, perhaps driven by sympathy over how the media has handled the story.
Older respondents are the most likely to have a more negative view of David Cameron in light of the lobbying news, with a majority of those aged 65 and over (53%) and 55-to-64-year-olds (61%) saying their view is now more negative. Still, a plurality of the other age groups also say they now have a more negative view of David Cameron.
With respect to the current British Prime Minister, a plurality (48%) of respondents say their view of Boris Johnson has not changed as a result of the news regarding David Cameron’s lobbying of the Government. Meanwhile, 28% say their view of Boris Johnson is more negative, and 15% say their view is more positive. For those who voted for Labour in the 2019 Election, 41% say they now have a more negative view of the Prime Minister, compared to just 13% of Conservative voters.
That almost half of the British public have not changed their view of Boris Johnson could be related to his lack of direct involvement in the scandal. Instead, focus has been on Chancellor Rishi Sunak for text messages he exchanged with David Cameron and Health Secretary Matt Hancock for his ‘private drink’ with Cameron and Greensill’s founder. However, despite the ministers’ embroilment in the affair, half of Britons also say their views of Rishi Sunak (50%) and Matt Hancock (51%) have not changed as a consequence of the lobbying news. On the other hand, a fifth (21%) now have a more negative view of Rishi Sunak, and a quarter (26%) now have a more negative view of Matt Hancock. Once again, 2019 Labour voters are more likely to say their views of Rishi Sunak (30%) and Matt Hancock (37%) have become more negative in light of the controversy.
Therefore, it seems that the lobbying scandal has resulted in a more negative public perception of David Cameron, but not of senior officials in the current UK Government. Accordingly, 54% of the British public say their view of the Conservative Party has not changed, and a further 57% say their likelihood to vote for the Conservative Party has not changed. Meanwhile, 26% say they now have a more negative view of the Conservative Party at large, and 19% say they are now less likely to vote Conservative.
Our research thus suggests that the current controversy does not yet appear to have an obvious significant impact on the Conservative Party and its electoral prospects going forward. However, the developments have sparked a wider discussion about ‘sleaze’ and cronyism in the UK Government. In fact, 50% of Britons believe there is a culture of ‘sleaze’ in the UK Government, while 29% neither agree nor disagree with this sentiment. Just 11% disagree that there is a culture of ‘sleaze’ in the Government.
A plurality of Conservative voters (43%) and a majority of Labour voters (60%) agree that there is a culture of ‘sleaze’ in the UK Government.
But while there is an element of partisanship on this topic, agreement may, in part, stem from a distrust of politicians in general, rather than Conservative politicians in particular. Indeed, 49% of respondents align more with the statement, ‘Most politicians are in it for themselves, but some genuinely try to do a good job for the people they represent’ than they do with the statement, ‘Most politicians genuinely try to do a good job for the people they represent, but some are in it for themselves.’
Furthermore, a plurality (43%) of respondents say that all of the major political parties in the UK are equally likely to have improper links with big businesses.
However, a considerable 30% say that one of the major political parties in the UK is more likely to have improper links with big businesses. Among this 30%, two-thirds (67%) say they have the Conservative Party in mind (20% of the overall sample). A fifth (21%) identify the Labour Party as the one which has improper links to big businesses (6% of the overall sample), while 11% say they had another party in mind.
Those who voted Conservative in 2019 are notably more likely to think that politicians genuinely try to do a good job for the people they represent (51%) and to think that all parties are equally likely to have improper links with big businesses (56%). By contrast, those who voted Labour in 2019 tend to think that politicians are in it for themselves (54%) and that one major party in particular is more likely to have improper links with big businesses (40%). Rhetoric on corruption in the UK Government may therefore have struck a chord with recent Labour voters, but not so much with those who voted Conservative less than two years ago.
In light of the revelations about David Cameron’s lobbying of the Government, some have called for reform of the UK’s current rules surrounding lobbying. Our polling finds that 52% of Britons believe former politicians and high-level civil servants should be prohibited from attaining jobs where they would lobby the Government on behalf of other organisations. Conversely, a quarter (23%) of respondents say they should not be prohibited at all and a further quarter (25%) say they don’t know.
When asked for how long former politicians and high-level civil servants should be prohibited from positions involving lobbying, a plurality (39%) of those who say they should be prohibited say this ban should be permanent. 19% say former politicians and high-level civil servants should be prohibited from lobbying jobs for three to five years upon leaving their post, while 17% say it should be one to three years, which mirrors the current two-year requirement.
Respondents who voted Conservative in 2019 are just as likely to say that high-level civil servants should be prohibited from lobbying jobs (58%) and that the ban should be permanent (35%) as those who voted Labour (58% and 36%, respectively).
The news surrounding David Cameron’s lobbying of the UK Government have started a conversation about ethics and impropriety that the Conservative Party will have to confront as investigations into the events continue. However, our research shows that the main party to emerge from the controversy with a damaged reputation is David Cameron, with much of the British public’s views of Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock, and the Conservative Party at large remaining unchanged. There are, however, considerable public concerns about a culture of ‘sleaze’ in the UK Government, alongside concerns about the current rules on lobbying.