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Promises galore – but will anyone listen?

Rishi Sunak
By Chris White
11 June 2024
Public Affairs
conservative party
general election 2024

The Prime Minister launched a blizzard of policies at the launch of the Conservative Manifesto in a detailed 80-page document that sought to have something for everyone. Repeating the campaign mantra of ‘clear plan, bold action, secure future’, the Prime Minister delivered a range of policies that should in theory appeal across demographics, and particularly to natural Conservative supporters.

The ‘rabbit’ was a new pledge to abolish the main rate of self-employed National Insurance “entirely” by the end of the next parliament, which would cost £2.6bn over the five years. Many of the rest of the announcements had been trailed in the previous few days, from income tax cuts for pensioners, to rewriting asylum treaties, a promise to scrap “Mickey Mouse” degrees and compulsory national service for 18-year-olds. 

Polling each of these measures individually would show positive support amongst Conservative leaning voters, and as a package it should do wonders for the Conservative poll ratings, although rumblings on the Conservative right suggest that the party could have been bolder on immigration given the threat from Reform. At one point, there were even suggestions that backbench Conservatives could offer their own ‘full fat’ rebel manifesto, including withdrawal from the ECHR, though this has since been denied. 

The polls show no signs that Conservative voters who delivered the 80-seat majority in 2019 are likely to return. In part this is because of the Prime Minister’s dire approval ratings, which have Rishi Sunak at -55, close to Jeremy Corbyn’s rating in 2019, almost the worst of any party leader in recent history entering an election campaign. 

The Conservatives then are trying to run on their record – taking ‘bold action’ on Covid furlough, the energy price cap, protecting pensions and cutting taxes, and promising more of the same. They are trying to frame this as a straight choice between themselves and Labour, while trying to shore up voters leaking to Reform on the right. 

However, this is unlikely to succeed, quite simply because after 14 years in government the party’s reputation is in tatters and voters want a change.  YouGov polling last week showed that six in every ten voters think the government has performed badly on every single issue except defence and security, and that is likely to slide into negative territory after the D-Day commemorations debacle.  

Labour is universally seen to have the best policies, thought to be more competent, and even more likeable that the Conservatives.  The Conservatives have tried to resort to a core vote strategy, even pleading in online adverts not to give Keir Starmer a “massive majority”, which shows just how desperate things have become.  

The Prime Minister could have stood at the lectern today and promised the moon on a stick and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Voters have long since stopped listening, and short of one of Macmillan’s ‘events’, the Conservatives look set to return to Opposition in four weeks’ time.