Written By Philip van Scheltinga

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Good Thursday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! This week, we analyse Rishi Sunak’s flailing return to his Five Priorities.

This week, our research also covered:

  • Our latest Westminster polling
  • Americans continuing weariness of China 

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 (12 November):

Labour 43% (-2)
Conservative 27% (-1)
Liberal Democrat 12% (+1)
Reform UK 8% (-1)
Green 6% (+2)
Scottish National Party 3% (+1)
Other 1% (–)

Changes +/- 5 November

Combined Net Approval Ratings (12 November):

Keir Starmer: +9% (-1)
Rishi Sunak: -18% (-2)

Changes +/- 5 November

Remember the ‘Five Priorities’?

Having invited the public to use them as a yardstick against which to judge his accomplishments for most of the year, Rishi Sunak dropped nearly all mention of his ‘Five Priorities’ during his recent attempted policy reset.

In both his ‘Net Zero’ and party conference speeches, the only reference Sunak made to these supposed centrepiece priorities was to brusquely declare he was making “progress” on them before pivoting to other announcements.

Then on Wednesday this week, the Prime Minister was suddenly back talking about them.

New figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the annual rate of CPI inflation has fallen to 4.6%, a sharper drop than anticipated, and the lowest monthly inflation figure recorded by the ONS since September 2021. That announcement allowed Sunak to declare victory in his Government’s battle to halve inflation from its January rate of 10.7% by the end of the year.

But Sunak’s triumphant announcement regarding inflation did not specify just how he had managed to achieve this priority (a failing that, as we have written previously, has consistently applied to all priorities).

In effect, his plan, as summed up by an opinion piece under his byline in The Telegraph this summer, was essentially to do nothing himself and to hope that tight interest rates from the Bank of England would do the trick.

Moreover, the permanence of inflation cannot be underestimated. Inflation going down does not mean prices will go down—something as many as 47% of voters this summer erroneously believed. Even now, most voters are unlikely to feel the true benefits of headline inflation coming down until inflation of food costs, which remains stubbornly high at 10.1%, comes down as well.

Consequently, in polling conducted on Wednesday, after the new inflation figures were released, 62% of voters say the Government has made only a little (32%) or no progress at all (30%) towards halving inflation. Just 16% think it has made a significant amount of progress, despite the target having ostensibly been achieved.

A more glaring failure to deliver on his priorities, however, is the Prime Minister’s promise to stop small boats crossing the Channel. Despite promising in January to end the arrival of illegal immigrants in small boats by the end of December, more than 27,000 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year. 

Shortly after 10am on Wednesday, the Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision to uphold the Court of Appeals earlier ruling that the Rwanda resettlement scheme, the signature policy of the last three Conservative Prime Ministers to clamp down on illegal immigration, is unlawful. 

The Government’s illegal immigration policy now lies in tatters.

On a chaotic day, MPs on the right of the party called for the Government to either disapply or leave the European Convention of Human Rights or (in the words of the Deputy Party Chairman, Lee Anderson MP) simply “ignore the laws and send them [illegal migrants] straight back.” 

Even if the Government were minded to withdraw from the ECHR (a move the now Home Secretary, James Cleverly, sounded distinctly unsure about in April), it would not resolve the fact that the Supreme Court found the Rwanda scheme unlawful also on the basis of UK domestic law.

The Prime Minister attempted to offer an answer to this conundrum last night, pledging to pass emergency legislation “to do whatever is necessary to get flights [to Rwanda] off.” But any attempt to pass such legislation through Parliament appears likely to become bogged down in the Lords until after the next General Election.

Consequently, at a time when just 7% of voters think the Government has made a significant amount of progress stopping small boats crossing the channel, the Prime Minister is left with what amounts to a campaign promise at the next election (that he will ensure illegal immigrants are deported to Rwanda) without being able to offer voters any concrete evidence of his ability to do so, with the first flight to Rwanda having supposed to have departed in June 2022.

The risk of a fracture among Conservative MPs on immigration policy is now real, bringing with it the (for now remote) possibility that Sunak may face a vote of no confidence in the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs in the near future.

While Andrea Jenkyns is so far the only MP to break cover and publicly reveal that she has submitted a letter of no-confidence in Sunak, there are other disaffected MPs who might think (looking at the polls) that they have little to lose by expressing their dissatisfaction with the Government’s immigration policy by attempting another leadership heave.

One of those disaffected MPs is the now former Home Secretary Suella Braverman. 

Braverman’s sacking on Monday was followed by her publication on Tuesday of an open letter to Sunak which has been viewed more than 36 million times on Twitter and which a majority (51%) of voters on Wednesday said they had heard or read a significant (23%) or fair (28%) amount about.

In her broadside against the Prime Minister, Braverman’s withering verdict on Sunak clearly struck a nerve with the public, perhaps leaving a deeper impression on voters than anything she said or wrote in her time as Home Secretary.

Altogether, 60% of voters agree with her uncharitable assessment of Sunak’s leadership (“Uncertain, weak, and lacking in the qualities of leadership that this country needs”), as do the same percentage of 2019 Conservative voters, a constituency the Prime Minister is desperately trying to win back.

Indeed, in October 2022, in the first poll since he became Prime Minister, Sunak led the Labour leader Keir Starmer by seven points on who Britons thought best embodied the characteristic ‘is a strong leader’ (39% vs 32%). In our most recent poll (taken on Sunday before Braverman’s sacking and subsequent letter), Sunak now trails Starmer on the same question by eight points (28% vs 36%) 

As the policy failures mount, Sunak is becoming a Prime Minister whose self-image as a results-focused problem-solver is belied by the Government’s failure to deliver.

With Sunak now promising to do “whatever is necessary” to ensure flights depart for Rwanda, he risks overpromising and under-delivering yet again.

If he needs any warnings on the perils of doing so when it comes to immigration, he need only look across the cabinet table at his new Foreign Secretary. 

David Cameron promised during the 2010 General Election to get net migration into Britain down into the “tens of thousands.” Two months after he left office in 2016, net migration into Britain stood at 327,000. The latest figure (for last year) is 606,000.

In March, we wondered if Rishi Sunak would be able to actually deliver on his promises about reducing illegal immigration or if, like his predecessors, it would be just talk.

For much of the public, they now have their answer.

Chart of the Week

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping held their first meeting on US soil since President Biden was elected in 2020. 

The meeting in San Francisco, held on the fringes of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Co-Operation (APEC) Summit, comes amid a severe downturn in US-China relations.

In 2017, on his previous visit to the United States, President Xi was welcomed to Mar-a-Lago by President Donald Trump, with the pair bonding over chocolate cake before Trump’s grandchildren serenaded the Chinese leader with a traditional Chinese folk song. 

These days, relations between the two superpowers are not so cosy. Tensions between the two countries over the origins of the pandemic, Chinese spying in the US, and—most especially—Taiwan have grown to the point where relations now are at the worst point in decades.

While Biden will hope his meeting with Xi might help improve damaged Sino-American relations, the American public remains deeply worried about China.

In polling conducted earlier this month for Newsweek, 38% of Americans name China as the country that today poses the greatest threat to the United States and its interests, comfortably ahead of Russia (25%) in second place.

But there are partisan differences regarding the relative threat of China and Russia to the United States. While 51% of Trump 2020 voters name China as America’s greatest threat, a plurality (35%) of Biden 2020 instead say Russia, with China (29%) the second most common choice among these voters.

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.

R&WS in the Media

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

Labour still holds huge lead on Tories as general election polling intention revealed
Wales Online | 15 November 2023

Simple Message Capturing What ‘Real’ Parenting Success Is Goes Viral
Newsweek | 13 November 2023

Sovereignty, economy, immigration: still the three pillars of the Brexit debate?
UK in a Changing Europe | 8 November 2023

Core voters slipping away pose threat to Biden’s re-election
The Telegraph | 3 November 2023

Mark Drakeford’s popularity is down – but does it matter?
The New Statesman | 2 November 2023

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Numbers of the Week

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