Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s issue of Magnified, we look at the Government’s struggles on immigration and analyse the Prime Minister’s promise to ‘Stop the Boats.’

This week, our research also covered:

  • Our latest Westminster polling
  • The lacklustre public response to last week’s Spring Budget
  • Whether or not British voters think the BBC’s on-air talent should be politically impartial

If you would like to find out more about how Redfield & Wilton Strategies can help your organisation succeed through polling and strategic advice, click here.

Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention (19 March):

Labour 47% (-1)
Conservative 26% (-1)
Liberal Democrat 11% (–)
Green 6% (+1)
Reform UK 5% (-1)
Scottish National Party 4% (+1)
Other 2% (+1)

Changes +/- 12 March

Combined Net Approval Ratings (19 March):

Keir Starmer: +11% (+2)
Rishi Sunak: -11% (–)
Jeremy Hunt: -15% (-2)

Changes +/- 12 March

This week’s Westminster voting intention poll yet again finds Labour leading the Conservatives by 21%, making it twelve consecutive voting intention polls since the start of the year in which Labour has led by 20 percentage points or more.

The Prime Minister’s approval rating is unchanged from last week at -11%, while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, in the first poll taken since he announced his Spring budget, sees his rating fall a marginal two points to -15%. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer’s approval rating is up two points to +11% nationally, and he holds a seven-point lead over Sunak (41% to 34%) when British voters are asked who the better Prime Minister at this moment would be.

There is better news for the Conservatives in this week’s Red Wall poll—published on Tuesday—which finds Labour’s lead is now 16%, down from a high of 28% just four weeks ago. Rishi Sunak leads Keir Starmer as better Prime Minister for the first time in these seats since March last year (37% to 35%) while the labour leader sees his personal net approval rating fall to +5%, its lowest level since September.

However, completing a complicated polling picture of the Red Wall, the Prime Minister sees no personal profit from any of these movements, instead seeing his net approval rating fall a further three points to -21%, its second lowest level in these seats since he became Prime Minister. 

A Lacklustre Public Response to Spring Budget

In our last edition of Magnified, we suggested that the budget offered one of the last big opportunities for the Conservatives to win back public support. In the face of a middling economy, stagnant wages, and widespread industrial action, the Government had an opportunity to take the economic initiative and prove it had an answer to Britain’s current woes. 

One week on, the public verdict appears to indicate that the Budget has changed little. On the whole, the policies announced by Jeremy Hunt, while not fairly controversial, are not perceived by the public to provide the answers to their top economic concerns. 

Of the measures announced, a majority of Britons support the decision to extend the energy price cap (67%), while pluralities support raising corporation tax from 19% to 25% (35%) and increasing the tax-free yearly allowances on pension pots from 40,000 to 60,000 (33%). 

A majority of English voters meanwhile approve of the Government’s decision to expand the existing scheme of providing 30 hours of free childcare to include children under the age of three (53%).

Altogether, however, few Britons expect the Budget to make much of a difference to their own finances. More voters in fact think the measures announced in the Budget will make them worse off (24%) than better off (16%), although the plurality thinks it will make no difference either way (43%). 

In fact, the Budget may inflict a greater financial hit than the public realises. Only 19% think the measures announced will result in their personal taxes increasing, but the decision to maintain the freeze on thresholds and allowances on income tax, national insurance and inheritance tax until 2028 will result in effective rises in tax bills from this year for millions of workers.

Combined with the news this week that inflation unexpectedly rose in February to 10.4%, this has not been the Budget bounce that the Government will have hoped for. As the Conservatives continue to trail Labour as the party most trusted to manage the economy (on 29% to Labour’s 33%), the party in Government must hope that recent banking shocks in the United States and Switzerland do not precipitate further difficulties for the UK economy.

Chart of the Week

In the wake of the Government’s publication of its Illegal Migration Bill (see Long Exposure below) two weeks ago, the ex-England footballer and BBC Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker was moved to quote-tweet the announcement by Suella Braverman on twitter, adding the caption “Good heavens, this is beyond awful.”  

In response to a comment from another Twitter user, Lineker added that “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”

Lineker has long used twitter to post his personal opinions on contentious political matters, something which has previously drawn public criticism from other BBC staff. In the past, BBC sources have said Lineker’s position as a freelance broadcaster—not a contracted member of staff—and as someone who does not front news or politics programmes leaves him free to take positions that other BBC staff would be barred by the Corporation’s impartiality rules from taking.

But in the wake of the latest tweet row, BBC bosses decided to act. Lineker was stood down from his presenting role on Match of the Day, with a statement from the BBC saying, “We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines.”

After a weekend when presenters, pundits, and commentators involved with the BBC’s football coverage boycotted programming in solidarity with Lineker, the Corporation was forced to reverse its position and return Lineker to the air, without an agreement on his future conduct on twitter.

Our polling shows Britons are divided over the affair, with a narrow plurality of 40% saying that all BBC presenters and journalists—including those not working in news and current affairs—should be required to be politically impartial when making personal statements, including tweets.

There is a wide partisan split on the issue. A majority of 2019 Conservative voters (59%) say that all BBC presenters and journalists should be politically impartial when expressing personal opinions publicly, while exactly half of 2019 Labour voters (50%) disagree.

The row over Lineker feeds into a wider controversy over BBC impartiality, with outstanding questions about the role that BBC Chairman Richard Sharp played in securing a personal loan for the then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

With Lineker back on the air, unrepentant, and continuing to tweet on the political issues of the day, the row over what is the proper conduct for the BBC’s on-air talent, and the wider debate about the Corporation’s commitment to impartiality, is likely to rumble on. 

Hire Us: If you are a business, campaign, or research organisation looking to expand your understanding of public opinion, Redfield & Wilton Strategies has the tools to help. Get in touch to find out more.

Long Exposure: In-Depth Analysis

Yet Another Conservative Prime Minister Says They Will “Stop the Boats”

When Rishi Sunak unveiled his Government’s five policy priorities in January, sceptics in the media were quick to note their ambiguity, the lack of defined delivery dates, and the fact that some, such as halving inflation, were projected to be “achieved” anyway, without any meaningful action required on the part of the Government.

One commitment, however, stood out in its specificity and concreteness. The fifth of Sunak’s pledges (titled ‘Small Boats’) promised that his Government would “pass new laws to stop small boats, making sure that if you come to [the UK] illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed.”

Two months later, the Government unveiled its promised legislation, the Illegal Migration Bill. Speaking from a lectern emblazoned with the slogan ‘STOP THE BOATS,’ Sunak went further, “People must know that if they come here illegally it will result in their detention and swift removal. Once this happens—and they know it will happen—they will not come, and the boats will stop.”

Unlike other pledges, such as growing the economy, reducing the national debt, or even cutting the NHS waiting lists, success or failure here will be visual. While statistics certainly help paint a picture on this issue, at the end of the day, the question is whether the boats either stop or keep coming. Any pictures or footage of yet another boat of migrants crossing the Channel will be a clear, hard, definitive indication of failure.

And failure is what voters have become acquainted with. Conservative governments have been here before during their thirteen years in power. Three years before Suella Braverman promised the Commons that the Illegal Migration Bill “will allow us to stop the boats that are bringing tens of thousands to our shores,” Boris Johnson was announcing his intention to end Channel crossings. 

In 2019—using language remarkably similar to Sunak’s in his recent announcement of a deal with France—then-Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a new cross-Channel initiative with her French counterpart to “intensify joint action to tackle small boat crossings in the Channel.” And as long ago as 2011, then Home Secretary Theresa May was promising that the UK would give illegal migrants who did make it to Britain “a really hostile reception.”

During all this time, the number of migrants arriving in Britain has soared. After seeing fewer than 10,000 illegal arrivals by boat as recently as 2019, 45,000 persons arrived in southern England having crossed the Channel last year. A further 1,180 made the crossing in 28 different vessels in January this year according to the Ministry of Defence.

Therefore, despite the Leave campaign in 2016 promising that Brexit would allow the United Kingdom to ‘Take Back Control’ of the country’s borders, 48% now believe (correctly) that the level of illegal immigration into the UK has gone up since the UK left the European Union, against only 14% who think it has gone down.

For this reason, for all the controversy and fanfare surrounding the Illegal Migration Bill, and the subsequent announcement of a new deal on policing the Channel with France, the public remains firmly sceptical. In polling conducted this week, after both the Illegal Migration Bill and deal with France were announced, only 16% of voters thought the Government was taking the issue of Channel crossings ‘extremely seriously,’ less than half the number who thought the Government was taking the war in Ukraine extremely seriously (35%). 

In addition, 55% said they do not believe the Government will achieve its goal of stopping the boats.

Rishi Sunak is certainly not wrong to focus on addressing this problem, as some have alleged. Immigration has consistently ranked as the third most important issue—behind the economy and the NHS—that voters, and Conservative voters in particular, say will determine their vote at the next election. 

The truth—as we have written previously—is that the British public do want control on illegal immigration. 66% of the British public rate stopping small boats crossing the English Channel as very or fairly important to them personally.

Crucially, among those who voted Conservative at the last election, 82% rate stopping the boats as a matter that is very or fairly important to them. For the party that has been traditionally associated with a hard-line stance on immigration, genuine success on this issue is sorely needed.

With only 57% of 2019 Conservative voters currently saying they intend to vote for the party again at the next election, showing demonstrable progress on stopping the boats is a necessary step to retaining the Conservative electoral coalition from three years ago. 

But Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman are working against thirteen years of failure on this issue and an even more spectacular level of failure in the last two years. The last time more than 30% of the British public approved of the Government’s policy performance on immigration was in July 2021.

As pollsters, our remit is primarily messaging. On this issue, however, the question is simple: will Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman actually deliver? Or are they just like their predecessors, all talk and no action? 

A sceptical public wants to see results.

R&WS in the Media

Each week we bring you the top stories from the media that have featured our research.

China fears rise: 84% of Brits are worried about growing influence of Beijing – and 57% say it poses a ‘significant risk’ to global peace
The Daily Mail | 22 March 2023

Budget Poll: half of voters see Tories as a high tax party
The Spectator | 20 March 2023

The Public Want Answers on the Origins of COVID-19
Newsweek | 15 March 2023

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