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Jun 22nd, 2024

What Rishi Sunak’s own constituents think about the NHS and the cost of living crisis.

By Matthew McGregor

Voters in Richmond and Northallerton have offered a damning verdict on Rishi Sunak as both a Prime Minister and a local MP, accusing the Conservative leader of being ‘absent’ and ‘out of touch’. 

The voters attended a focus group we commissioned JL Partners to run. It took place two days ago, on Thursday. The respondents were recruited by an independent market research agency, and results are covered the first time in today’s Yorkshire Post

All the participants cast their vote for the Conservative Party in 2019, but not a single one said they would do so again on July 4. And the cost of living crisis was at the heart of the discussion.

Supermarket worker Paul said: “I think we should be focusing more on what people need rather than profit, a lot of these companies and external things are all privatised and it’s all profit driven. People have gone past the days of working to enjoy holidays and days out, people are working now to get day-by-day living, and that’s wrong.” 

Grant, a railway worker, added: “It’s work to live, not live to work now, everything’s at an all time high, the housing market’s sky-rocketed, interest rates, things like that.” 

To voters in his constituency, Rishi Sunak was seen as struggling to relate – with comments about having “gone without” Sky TV as a child coming in for criticism. Renee, a midwife, said: “There’s children starving, mums and dads having to go to foodbanks, foodbanks are at a record high of being used because people literally can’t afford to eat, and he said that he’s ‘poverty stricken’ was to go without Sky.”

The NHS also affected how voters in the group felt, with many saying it should have been given more attention during the election campaign. Some raised concerns about “privatisation”, and called on the next Government to “take care of” existing NHS staff and make sure “they are paid for what they do”. 

Paul said: “Every election when they make these promises of what they’re going to do they’ve fallen short. It’s full of broken promises, the NHS, and we all know that that’s the foundation of the country, without it we’d be in a worse state and I think that’s where there needs to be a focus on. I think the reason why there’s not much about it in the elections is because they don’t actually know what they’re going to do.” Emma added: “If we don’t look after those in [medical] jobs then how are they expected to look after us in our time of need? I think there really should be a focus on prioritising those members of staff.”

However, the Conservative Party’s focus on tax cuts, in particular cuts to National Insurance, were dismissed as “headline-grabbing” and seen as having little impact on the cost of living – with several saying they’d accept higher taxes in exchange for public services spending. Owen: “Nobody likes to increase taxes but if I was to know that my tax money was going somewhere worth it I’d happily pay a bit more, to be honest with you, instead of having a cut.” 

Asked to offer a ‘grade’ to the Prime Minister, voters offered between D and E grades – with several saying he avoided an F because he had inherited a difficult situation and his predecessors had “done a worse job”.

Asked to look ahead to whoever forms the next Government, messages from voters focused on improvements they’d like to see in key areas like the NHS and the cost of living. 

Emma said: “I feel like it’s the cost of living: focus on those that really need the help in this country, that have tried to help and do their bit.”

Owen said: “Remember who put you into power, work for the people not for the businesses, and save the NHS.”

Grant said: “Just give us hope, give me hope that things can be improved, hope that the cost of living is going to be sorted out, hope that it won’t just be another person in power and another day that goes by.”

Had the 2019 election been held in the new Richmond and Northallerton seat, Parliament figures show Rishi Sunak would have won more than 63% of the vote. Yet these 2019 Conservative voters either said they would vote Labour as a ‘tactical’ choice, or that they’d choose the Liberal Democrat or Green parties.

What came across loud and clear was that regardless of the result in this seat, or any other seat, people in Richmond – and across the UK – voters want to see action on NHS waiting lists, help with the cost of living a little, and for politicians to make the changes that will improve their lives. 

Voters in this group showed us something that we hear across the country: people want respect from their leaders. They expect them to take the issues that matter to voters seriously, to care about their local area, and to not act like it’s one rule for the powerful and another for the rest of us.

Overall, what these voters wanted was hope. Whoever they give their vote to now must not only give them that hope, but also deliver on it, and restore voters’ faith that the system can work for them.

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