It isn’t news to say the Johnson administration doesn’t understand how to fight Covid-19 or reopen schools or save the economy. But the knowledge that it doesn’t understand the people who put it in power is new and worth hearing.
A poll given to The Spectator today by the Best for Britain think tank shows the gap between ‘Red Wall’ voters and the Tory elite in London is dizzyingly wide. It reports overwhelming opposition to a no-deal Brexit in the seats that put Johnson in Downing Street. As striking is the widespread concern about living standards and equally valid worries about the Conservatives tying Britain to the Trump administration.
Best for Britain’s pollsters interviewed 5,317 people across the country from 9 May to 5 June. Its researchers employed the most respected and intensive polling technique – multilevel regression and post-stratification analysis, which uses statistics on past votes and demographics, as well as the poll results. They focused on 44 constituencies which the Conservatives won in 2019 from Labour in the North and Midlands.
I’ll give you the findings first and then my analysis of why opinion is moving. 70 per cent of Red Wall voters said they wanted to work with Europe, whereas only 20 per cent said America should be the UK's main partner.
The researchers then asked, ‘The Conservative campaign manifesto said that the Government would pursue "a new free trade agreement with the EU [and that] this will be a new relationship based on free trade and friendly cooperation”. How important is it that the Government keeps this promise?’ Every which way you could cut up the pro-Brexit, pro-Tory vote, the answer was the same.
Red wall average: 88.9 per cent think government keeping promise to get a trade deal is either very important (55 per cent) or important (33.9 per cent)
Red wall Tory voters: 90.8 per cent think government keeping promise to get a trade deal is either very important (54.8 per cent) or important (36 per cent)
Red wall Leave voters: 88.6 per cent think government keeping promise to get a trade deal is either very important (51.7 per cent) or important (36.5 per cent)
Red wall switchers (Lab-Con): 91.5 per cent think government keeping promise to get a trade deal is either very important (57.2 per cent) or important (34.2 per cent)
There was no difference between the North and the Midlands: 87.8 per cent in Dudley North and 88.9 per cent in Sedgefield agreed.
Finally, the reason why people are worried about no-deal was explored. When asked ‘do you think the cost of daily essentials will get better or worse if the UK leaves the transition period without a trade deal,’ 68 per cent answered ‘worse’.
Reality is starting to bite. Leave voters in 2016 and Conservative voters in 2019 believed the promises that cutting a deal would be easy and that German car manufacturers would save Britain. I have no idea whether Johnson, Gove, Cummings and the rest of the gang believed their words when they uttered them, and genuinely thought that sensible warnings were ‘Project Fear’. But everyone who has paid attention can see that when their promises turned out to be false, and when the German car makers did not arrive like the cavalry in VW Polos, they doubled down and embraced the chaos of no-deal like student Trots playing with revolution.
They have no electoral mandate for it, and their behavior in government is making previously loyal supporters at last wonder if they know what they are doing.
Naomi Smith of Best for Britain told me, ‘They failed to plan for the pandemic. They failed to lock down in time. Now they are rushing towards a no-deal, against the wishes of key election battleground seats.’
The poll also shows what is obvious to everyone except right-wing politicians and journalists. British voters have the good sense to find Trump frightening. This isn’t a left-right divide. Regardless of their politics, 70 per cent of people would rather work with the EU than tie the country to a dangerous and despised man.
Perhaps this knowledge is beginning to filter through. Even the leaders of right-wing opinion have gone quiet on Trump now. You may have noticed that they only talk about the excesses, real and imagined, of the woke left in the US, while saying nothing about the excesses of the strongman in the White House, which matter more because he has actual power.
Today Alexander Stafford, the Tory MP for Rother Valley, argues in The Spectator that ‘Red Wall voters won’t forgive the Tories if Brexit is delayed’. With all due respect, he should get out more. He might then discover that Britain’s mood is frightened. The time of grand, destructive right-wing gestures is passing. Too many people are learning the hard way that they are too expensive and that we are too sick a country to pick up the bill.