In the first week of 2023, as Rishi Sunak sought to bounce back from a bruising 2022 for both him and his party, the Prime Minister gave a set-piece speech in which he outlined his five key priorities for the year ahead. The priorities announced all involve the three key issues voters consistently say will determine how they will vote at the next election: the economy, the NHS, and immigration.
Yet, apart from a specific goal to ‘halve inflation,’ the priorities listed offer no specific target against which their success or failure can be measured. In place of specific targets, Sunak’s list is made up of broad commitments to ‘grow the economy,’ ‘pass legislation to stop small boats,’ and a promise that ‘NHS waiting lists will fall.’
Having had two months to explain these priorities to voters, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies recently asked voters if they could name one of them.
The results indicate that the Prime Minister has had little success informing the public of his goals. 65% of respondents say they ‘don’t know’ any of Rishi Sunak’s five priorities. 8% can cite cutting inflation (or something similar), while 5% cite cutting NHS waiting lists (or similar).
Not to be outdone by Sunak, Keir Starmer recently unveiled Labour’s ‘Five Missions For a Better Britain.’ Labour’s five missions are similarly no more specific than the Prime Minister’s.
Apart from nods to voter concerns about the economy (‘Largest Growth in the G7’) and the NHS (‘Build an NHS fit for the future’), Labour’s missions commit the Party to tackling a range of issues unmentioned by Sunak, including the environment (‘Make Britain a clean energy superpower’), inequality and education (‘Break down the barriers of opportunity at every stage’), and the historically Conservative issue of crime (‘Make Britain’s streets safe’).
Again, however, the British public is no more familiar with these missions than they are with Sunak’s promises. 77% of the public cannot name one of Labour’s missions, while 6% give an answer related to the NHS, and another 3% an answer related to economic growth. Admittedly, Starmer’s missions were announced less two weeks ago.
When respondents are provided with a combined list of Sunak’s ‘Five Promises’ and Starmer’s ‘Five Missions’ and asked to identify which mission or priority belonged to whom, we find a significant degree of misidentification.
While pluralities of voters correctly identify stopping small boats (48%), reducing the national debt (46%), and halving inflation (40%) as three of Sunak’s five promises, voters incorrectly attribute the goals of creating better jobs and opportunities across the country (42%) and cutting NHS waiting lists (39%) to Starmer.
Most voters correctly identify making Britain a clean energy superpower and building an NHS fit for the future as being among Labour’s five missions. But 40% incorrectly think securing the highest sustained growth in the G7 is one of Rishi Sunak’s promises, while pluralities don’t know that breaking down barriers of opportunity (39%) and making Britain’s streets safer (37%) are two of Starmer’s policy commitments.
In summary, then, neither Sunak nor Starmer has yet had much success in defining their priorities clearly for the public, such that they can at least easily identify the five key policy commitments they have made. While think tanks ask whether or not Sunak’s promises set the government a deliberately low bar against which to judge them, or debate how bold Labour’s five missions are, a more fundamental question should be: do these priorities or missions even register with the public?