Voters in the Conservatives’ crucial “red wall” region have said they want a general election now to end the political “shambles” inside government.
Two in three members of a focus group in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland said Rishi Sunak should get his own mandate from the public following the “mess” of recent months.
The focus group, convened by More in Common for The Independent, also revealed the uphill struggle the prime minister faces in convincing voters that he is on their side – with one describing him as “richer than the King”.
The swing voters in the north of England seat – taken by the Tories from Labour in 2017 – questioned how Mr Sunak could carry out major shifts on policy from predecessors Liz Truss and Boris Johnson without a general election.
Tom, a school teacher, said Mr Sunak had no mandate. “When the party has gone to one idea and then gone down a completely different road, which one is the mandate? At one point do we get to make any decision on it?”
Gemma, a beauty therapist, added: “We should all have a say. One minute we’re told Boris [Johnson] is back, then Rishi … I’m sick of it. I would like to have had a say.”
Some expressed fears about the unfairness of major spending cuts ahead after the disastrous mini-Budget, since the idea of an austerity programme received no mention in the Tories’ 2019 manifesto.
Emma, a children’s care manager, said: “I think there should be an election. Spending cuts affects us quite a lot, so it would be nice to know you would have some input.”
It comes as the number of signatures on The Independent’s petition for an election passed 465,000, part of our Election Now campaign arguing that it is time for voters to decide who should govern the country.
Recent polling suggests close to two-thirds of voters say Mr Sunak should call a general election, with the latest Redfield and Wilton survey showing half of all 2019 Tory voters back a snap poll.
The focus group members in Middlesbrough described the political and economic turmoil – which has seen three prime ministers at No 10 in 10 weeks – as “so chaotic”, “a complete mess” and “a shambles”.
Vince, an IT worker, said: “You don’t know what the next scandal is, who is coming and going. It’s all over the place … I think we should be able to get a poll from the general public.”
There was criticism some participants over Mr Sunak’s decision to bring back Suella Braverman as home secretary, and the appointment of Gavin Williamson as minister without portfolio.
“Some of those appointments were made purely to keep him in power rather than being the best people for that specific job. Some of those decisions made me question, are you really doing this for the right reason?” said Tom.
There was also alarm at Mr Williamson’s WhatsApp messages to former chief whip Wendy Morton, in which he warned her not to “f*** us all over” after he and other Sunak allies failed to receive invites to the Queen’s funeral.
Jodie, a shop owner, said: “It shows that even though they went to certain schools, and mix with certain groups of people, they are still idiots.”
Most participants were aware of Mr Sunak’s huge wealth and his wife’s previous non-dom tax status – as revealed by The Independent– and questioned whether he could understand their financial struggles.
“He’s richer than the King,” said Tom. “I have a bit of confidence in him over Liz Truss to do what’s needed, but does he really know what everyone else is going through?”
There was some enthusiasm for Labour and Sir Keir Starmer, but scepticism about the idea of a Labour government would make a difference amid the gloomy economic outlook.
“I think he’d do quite a decent job. I’d be willing to give him a go,” said Vince. But Emma said: “I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel until they can show us things have changed instead of just saying it.”
Luke Tryl, More in Common’s UK director said: “Most of this group in Middlesbrough felt that after not one but two changes of prime minister it was now time for a them to have a say.”
He added: “But it was also clear that for others in the group the chaos of the past few weeks had entirely eroded their faith in government and while they hoped Sunak would do a good job, they saw little prospect of things getting better whoever ends up in power. Restoring their confidence in our political system won’t be easy.”
The Independent petition calling for a general election
It is a simple and fundamental principle that the government derives its democratic legitimacy from the people. The future of the country must not be decided by plotting and U-turns at Westminster; it must be decided by the people in a general election. And for this reason, The Independent is calling for an election to be held. Have your say and sign our election petition by clicking here.