Written By Philip van Scheltinga

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Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s issue of Magnified, we look at why Labour has revived Tony Blair’s language on crime as the party repositions itself ahead of the next General Election.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Our latest Westminster polling
  • The situation in Scotland as Humza Yousaf takes office
  • The government’s plan to introduce compulsory voter ID

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 (2 April):

Labour 45% (-1)
Conservative 28% (+1)
Liberal Democrat 12% (+2)
Reform UK 5% (-3)
Green 4% (–)
Scottish National Party 4% (+1)
Other 2% (–)

Changes +/- 26 March

Combined Net Approval Ratings (2 April):

Keir Starmer: +10% (+7)
Rishi Sunak: -11% (-3)
Jeremy Hunt: -12% (-4)

Changes +/- 26 March

Having held leads of over twenty points in thirteen consecutive voting intention polls since the start of the year, the last fortnight has seen Labour’s lead over the Conservatives drop into the high teens. 

This week’s Westminster voting intention poll finds Labour leading the Conservatives by 17%, two points less than the previous week, tying the narrowest lead Labour has held over the Conservatives since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister.

However, the scale of this narrowing should not be overstated. If this polling result were to be repeated in a General Election, Labour would win an outright, landslide majority, and Keir Starmer would be the next Prime Minister.

Starmer himself sees his net approval rebound from a six-month low of +3% last week to now stand at a far healthier +10%, potentially suggesting that the result in last week’s poll was a one-off. By comparison, the Prime Minister’s own approval rating (-11%) is down three points from last week, while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt sees his rating fall four points to -12%. Starmer also retains his lead over Rishi Sunak as the person most Britons think would be the better Prime Minister, although this lead has narrowed to 3%, from a margin as wide as 9% in late February.

In this week’s Red Wall poll—published yesterday—Labour’s lead is up three points from a fortnight ago to 19%. Having trailed Rishi Sunak in our previous poll, Keir Starmer now leads Sunak as better Prime Minister by six points (41% to 35%). As is the case nationally, the Labour leader is still considerably more popular than Sunak in the Red Wall in terms of approval, though trending slightly closer together.

While the Prime Minister sees his net approval rating jump nine points to -12%—his highest net approval rating in these seats this year—the Labour leader’s net approval rating falls a further point +4%, its lowest level in the Red Wall since September.

Humza Yousaf Becomes Scotland’s First Minister

Scottish Independence Referendum Voting Intention (31 March – 1 April)

No, against Independence: 50% (-1)
Yes, for Independence: 44% (+2)
Don’t Know: 6% (-2)

Changes +/- 2-5 March

Scottish Westminster Voting Intention (31 March – 1 April)

SNP 36% (-3)
Labour 31% (+2)
Conservative 19% (-3)
Lib Dem 10% (+4)
Green 2% (–)
Reform 2% (–)
Other 1% (–)

Changes +/- 2-5 March

After a bruising leadership campaign that exposed deep personal and ideological divisions within the party, Humza Yousaf last week emerged victorious in the Scottish National Party’s leadership election, beating Kate Forbes by a wafer-thin margin of 52.1% to 47.9%. 

Yousaf succeeds Nicola Sturgeon as both party leader and as First Minister of Scotland following Sturgeon’s announcement in February of her plans to step down. 

The turmoil in the SNP—which took a further turn yesterday with the arrest of Nicola Sturgeon’s husband as part of an investigation into the party’s finances—has put heart into political opponents both of the party and of Scottish independence.

Our latest monthly tacker poll shows 50% of Scottish voters would vote ‘no’ to independence if an independence referendum were held tomorrow. 44% of Scots would vote ‘yes’ to independence. When undecided voters are excluded, ‘no’ leads by eight points, 54% to 46%.

The major looming electoral challenge for Yousaf and the SNP is the next UK General Election, due to be held no later than January 2025. Our Scottish Westminster voting intention poll shows Labour (31%) now just five points behind the SNP (36%) when undecided voters are excluded, with the Conservatives in a distant third place on 19%. 

On a personal note, Yousaf also faces the challenge of emerging from under the shadow of Sturgeon, a leader who—as even her political opponents recognize—was a formidable politician.

Despite serious failings of policy during her administration, Yousaf enters office with a plurality (39%) of Scots—as well as the same number of 2019 SNP voters—saying they think he will be a worse First Minister for Scotland than Sturgeon was. Only 11% of Scottish respondents and just 9% of SNP voters at the last UK General Election expect him to be better

The coming months are therefore crucial for Yousaf and the Government and movement he leads. His challenge now is to put the leadership divisions behind the party and gear up to face a resurgent Labour Party and a Unionist movement increasingly confident that the drive for Scottish independence is losing momentum.

Chart of the Week

In May, voters in England and Wales will for the first time be required to present photo ID in order to be able to vote. The introduction of compulsory photo ID to vote in the local elections this year is a precursor to the nationwide rollout of the requirement from October, in time for the next UK General Election.

Introducing the new regulations in Parliament, Kemi Badenoch stressed that compulsory voter ID is being introduced as a means to “ensure our democracy remains secure, fair, modern and transparent.” The Government has pointed to a report on electoral fraud which cited cases such as the 2014 Mayoral Election in Tower Hamlets—which was declared void due to evidence of corrupt and illegal practices—as evidence of vulnerabilities in Britain’s voting system. The Government has also pointed to the precedent of Northern Ireland, where ID has been required to vote since 1985. 

Critics, for their part, point to the small number of reported cases of electoral fraud in the United Kingdom to ask if such a change is necessary. Some have also condemned the list of acceptable ID documents for providing more options for older voters to prove their identity than younger voters, seeing in it an attempt to suppress the youth vote.

Overall, 57% of British voters approve of the Government’s plan to introduce compulsory voter ID, with only 19% opposed to the plan. Clear majorities of 2019 Conservative (73%) and Liberal Democrat (71%) voters approve of the plan, as do a plurality of 2019 Labour voters (45%).

It is worth noting that the United Kingdom is currently an outlier, with most European countries requiring some form of voter ID in order to vote in national elections. But attempts to introduce mandatory identification have proved controversial in Britain in the past, given the country’s historic aversion to requiring the public to carry identification documents on civil liberties grounds.   

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

Will Labour’s Crime Strategy Work?

In the mid-1990’s, Tony Blair adopted a slogan that would become a shorthand for Labour’s efforts to portray itself as the party of law and order: ‘Tough on crime, Tough on the causes of crime.’

With Labour in Opposition, Blair repeatedly stressed the failures of the Conservatives’ policies on crime, while advocating a twin-track approach of stricter penalties for criminals combined with measures to address the underlying social causes of criminality. Against a backdrop of rising anxiety about crime rates, Blair’s appeal worked.

In May 1994, Labour overtook the Conservatives as the party more Britons thought had the best policies on law and order. By the time he made his second Conference speech as Labour leader in 1995, Blair could confidently announce, “Law and order is a Labour issue today.”

Thirty years later, Labour is trying to repeat the trick. In late February, Keir Starmer announced that ‘Making Britain’s Streets Safer’ would be one of Labour’s ‘Five Missions’ that would form the core of its manifesto at the next election. As part of this ‘Mission,’ Labour has committed itself, once in Government, to halving the level of violence against women, halving knife crime, and reversing what it calls the “collapse in the proportion of crimes solved,” all within a decade of taking office.

Will this reversion back to a decades-old strategy work to win voters?

In the first case, recent events have brought attention to a decline in trust in the police and to lower feelings of safety among the British public. Labour has promised to raise confidence in “every police force to the highest level,” in the wake of the Casey report into the culture of the Metropolitan police and collapsing public trust in the police more generally. Labour also aims to put 13,000 extra neighbourhood and community police officers on the street, at a time when less than a third (32%) of British voters are confident in the ability of the police to protect them from crime.

Critically, a majority (55%) of the public say they are more concerned about becoming a victim of a crime than they were five years ago. 

Politically, Labour’s leadership also clearly senses a weakness for the Conservatives. Despite recent announcements of plans to crack down on anti-social behaviour and grooming gangs, the Conservatives have led Labour as the party most trusted to tackle crime only once since January 2022, with Labour holding a seven-point lead in the latest poll (32% to 25%).

But just as importantly, Labour’s revival of Blair-era rhetoric on crime is an attempt to convince the public that Labour has changed since Jeremy Corbyn was leader. In an interview last year, Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed made this explicit, saying that the days are “well and truly over” when the party (as he alleged it had under Corbyn’s leadership) gave the public “the impression that we were more concerned about the criminals than about their victims.”

For Keir Starmer, this policy may be more personal than it is political. It plays to his own strengths, given his history as a Director of Public Prosecutions. He can therefore distinguish himself not only from his Conservative Party counterpart Rishi Sunak, but also from any would-be contenders for the Labour Party’s leadership, should his leadership ever be challenged.

Yet, while Labour has become the more trusted party to tackle crime, that change may primarily be due to the overall change in British voting intention polling. Public awareness of the Labour party’s policies overall remains limited, including on policing. When asked in early March if ‘Making Britain’s Streets Safer’ was a policy goal of Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer, only 35% correctly identified it as one of Starmer’s ‘Five Missions.’ 28% thought it was one of Sunak’s ‘Five Priorities’ (none of which mention crime or policing).

Nor do voters see Labour as being any more serious about tackling crime than the Conservatives. While 41% of voters in mid-March associated Labour with being serious about crime, 39% said the same about the Conservatives. Currently, there is no great differentiation in the public’s mind between the two.

Furthermore, Britain in 2023 is not the same as it was in the mid-90’s. In February 1993, when Blair started to adopt his ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric, a plurality (33%) of Britons said crime was the most important issue facing the country.

By contrast, in our most recent poll, only 14% of voters name policing/crime as one of the three issues that would most determine their vote in a General Election. 13% among likely Labour voters and just 12% of undecided voters cite crime as a major electoral issue, while more than 60% of both groups selected either the economy or healthcare. Ultimately, the economy and the NHS will be far more decisive issues when British voters next go to the polls to elect a Government.

For these reasons, while Labour may now be doing well in this policy area (no small achievement), their shift on crime has yet to strike a chord with the broader public.

R&WS in the Media

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

Poll: SNP lead for next general election cut to just five points over Scottish Labour
The Scotsman | 4 April 2023

Sorry, boomers, millennials call BS on ‘work wife’ excuse
New York Post | 4 April 2023

EXCLUSIVE: One in four voters wrongly believe they don’t need ID at May local elections, poll shows
The Mirror | 26 March 2023

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