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Jun 13th, 2023

Rishi Sunak’s sleaze problem

By Matthew McGregor

Boris Johnson’s resignation means he is yesterday’s man. Now the spotlight is on Rishi Sunak. His decision to let a man no longer even fit to be an MP appoint a gang of partygate peers to sit in our Parliament shows he can’t be trusted to end the culture of sleaze in Downing Street.

That’s the outcome of new research 38 Degrees carried out with pollsters JL Partners, using a pioneering update on traditional snap polling to assess quick-fire qualitative reactions to breaking news.

The JL Partners/38 Degrees Rapid Response Voter Panel was used to ask a representative sample of 100 2019 Conservative voters online to share their instantaneous reaction to breaking news. In an update on traditional focus groups, JL Partners asked people to explain their views and dig underneath the surface of support or opposition.

The voter panel makes for grim reading: people who turned out for the Conservatives in 2019 now call Rishi Sunak “weak”. They see Conservative politicians as “there for the money and power” and many say “I won’t be voting them in again”. When he was appointed, Mr Sunak promised ‘integrity and accountability’. His party’s former supporters clearly don’t think he has delivered.

The key findings of the poll make the case for reform of our system all the stronger:

  • The majority of respondents, who all voted for Boris Johnson in 2019, believed the ex-PM should not be able to hand out honours. Only around a quarter of people believed it should be allowed – either because they actively supported the move, or were resigned to it happening whatever they thought.
  • Voters reacted with a mixture of cynicism, anger and offence that Boris Johnson in particular had been allowed to use the privilege.
  • When asked how the honours list affected their view of the Conservative Party and of Rishi Sunak, there was a roughly 50/50 split between those who said that it made no difference and those that expressed a negative sentiment. Several respondents focused on the fact they see politics of this sort as corrupt or a game being played without them in mind.

Asked how they felt about Boris Johnson being allowed to hand out honours, including peerages, responses from the former Conservative voters included:

  • “A liar should not have this privilege” (Male, 50-59, Financial Investor, Exeter)
  • “I think it’s ridiculous, I don’t think he should have the privilege after resigning and leaving our country in the state it’s in” (Male, 30-39, Managing Director, Manchester)
  • “Disgusted. None of his cabinet should be awarded for offering support to someone who lied to the country.” (Female, 40-49, Teaching Assistant, Carlisle)
  • “I don’t see any problem with that, not a fan but he hardly had it easy with covid, Brexit etc.” (Female, 40-49, Secretary, Chelmsford)

Asked how the approval of the list affected their views of Rishi Sunak, responses included:

  • “It makes me feel that he is weak. Just because it is tradition does not mean it should be followed. It makes him look like a sop.” (Male, 40-49, Senior Banker, Guildford)
  • “Not a good prime minister at all…too weak.” (Female, 60-69, Retired, Liverpool)
  • “Well, I do like him more than I like Boris Johnson.” (Female, 60-69, Teaching Assistant, Oxford)

Asked how it affected their view of the Conservative Party, responses included:

  • “Negatively, I will NOT be voting for them in the next general election.” (Male, 30-39, Engineer, Hastings)
  • “They are there for the money and power.” (Male, 50-59, Financial Investor, Exeter)
  • “I’m a natural conservative but I will not vote for them for some time.” (Male, 40-49, Meter Reader, Bath)
  • “They keep appearing more and more corrupt.” (Male, 50-59, Bus Driver, Liverpool)
  • “I have a dim view of the party now, it doesn’t change that view.” (Female, 30-39, Police Civilian, Manchester)

Almost 400,000 people have now signed our petition demanding that Boris Johnson’s honours list be blocked. Join them.

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