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Rishi Sunak would be a better PM than Liz Truss, say Tory voters

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 30/09/2022 Nick Gutteridge, Ben Riley-Smith
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe

Conservative voters think Rishi Sunak would have made a better prime minister than Liz Truss, new polling for The Telegraph reveals.

The survey, on the eve of the Tory conference in Birmingham, shows just a third of those who backed the party in 2019 think she is a good leader.

Over half think she has made a bad incumbent in No 10 - almost as high as the number who would say the same about Sir Keir Starmer.

The results will lead to further soul-searching within the party about the decision by members to elect Ms Truss rather than the former chancellor.

Tory MPs in a mutinous mood over the fallout from the mini-Budget have discussed returning to a system where they pick the leader in future.

It has also emerged some rebel Conservatives are in talks with Labour over voting down her economic plan, especially the abolition of the 45p income tax rate.

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After a dramatic week, Labour now holds a colossal lead on nine key criteria, including who the public trust more to manage the economy.

Amongst those who voted Conservative at the last election, a mere 34 per cent said they thought Ms Truss made a good Prime Minister.

That compares with 60 per cent for Boris Johnson, her predecessor, and 45 per cent for Mr Sunak, who she vanquished in the leadership race.

She fares even worse among the wider public, with only one in five thinking she is a good leader and 63 per cent calling her a bad one.

Sir Keir has positive rating

Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak both fare better with the electorate, scoring 31 per cent each, but by far the most choice is Sir Keir on 46 per cent.

The Labour leader is the only one with a positive net rating scoring +14, while Mr Sunak is on -21, Mr Johnson on -31 and Ms Truss on -43.

In a dire set of results for the Tories, the study shows how their reputation for competence has been shredded over the last 21 months.

The poll by JL Partners asked voters to rate the two main parties on nine key areas including the economy, NHS, and social equality.

It reveals in January 2020 the Conservatives held a commanding 22-point lead in terms of who the public thought was “best for the economy”.

That had halved to nine per cent by January of this year and has now been overhauled, with Labour sitting a comfortable 13 points ahead.

Ratings plummet

It is a similar story on who voters see as “competent and capable”, with the Tories slumping from a 20 per cent advantage to trailing by 13 points.

The Conservatives held a 15-point lead on which party would “move the country in the right direction” and are now 16 per cent behind Labour.

When it comes to who is “best for protecting and creating jobs” they have also plummeted from four per cent ahead to 19 points in arrears.

Meanwhile Sir Keir has widened the gap on who most shares voters’ values, is best for the NHS and will “stand up for people like me”.

In contrast, the number of people who see the Tories as “out of touch” has tripled to 37 points ahead since the start of 2020.

Back then Mr Johnson had just won a huge majority while Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn, was seen as the most divided party by a 46-point margin.

But by January of this year the tables had reversed entirely, with the fallout from partygate seeing the Conservatives surge to a 21 per cent lead.

Electability ‘lost overnight’

The impression of the Tories as fractured has only grown since the ousting of the former prime minister and now stands at 27 per cent ahead.

James Johnson, who ran polling in Theresa May’s Number 10, said: “The drastic changes we are seeing in the fortunes of the Conservatives can be explained by this Telegraph poll.

“Labour now has a double-digit advantage on the economy, the first time it has led on this measure in this Parliament.

“And, since last month, the blame for economic woes has pivoted away from Russia and onto the Government itself.

“When the Conservatives lose their edge on the economy, they lose their electability overnight - and all signs are that we have seen exactly such a shift in the last few days.”

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Half of voters want Truss to resign

Separate polling by the firm YouGov published on Friday afternoon painted an equally bleak picture for Ms Truss ahead of the conference.

It showed 51 per cent of Britons think the Prime Minister should resign, including 36 per cent of those who voted Conservative at the last election.

A third survey released by Stonehaven revealed Labour is now on course to win an outright majority at the next election.

The MRP poll - the same kind which correctly predicted the 2019 result - puts Sir Keir’s party on 332 seats and the Tories on 228.

Pandora Lefroy, the insight director at Stonehaven, said:  “It has been a turbulent year for the Conservative party and that is being reflected in our election modelling which is showing, for the first time in 18 months, Labour having a path to an outright majority.

“A lot can change between now and the next General Election, but today we are seeing Red Wall voters are going back to their roots.

“Interestingly our data shows it is not their values that have changed, it’s simply that Labour is now seen as the party that best represents those values.”

Mini-budget not ‘executed competently’

Ms Truss faced a further backlash from angry Tory MPs on Friday with one grandee saying she has already lost the party at the next election.

Sir Charles Walker, a veteran backbencher, warned the Prime Minister she will face a “difficult time” getting the mini-Budget through Parliament.

He accused her and the Chancellor of “naivety” and “hubris” over the way it was announced, suggesting it was not “executed competently”.

“I don’t think I’ll be voting for these measures per se,” he told Times Radio when asked whether he was ready to rebel.

“I think the Government has learnt its lesson and will be amending them and doing some more thinking. If it doesn’t, it’s going to have a difficult time.”

Sir Charles warned that regardless the Tories have suffered a “cliff-edge collapse” and must start thinking about how to leave “some form of legacy” to Labour. 

“I think it’s hard to construct an argument now that the Conservatives can win that general election. I suspect the conversation is how much do we lose it by?” he said.

Steve Double, a former environment minister, said he “can’t explain” the decision to axe the 45p tax rate to his constituents and Ms Truss “should reverse” it.

“At this particular moment, when so many households are facing huge pressures on their finances in the coming months…quite frankly I think it's a mistake,” he told BBC Cornwall.

The MP for St Austell said he won’t be attending this year’s conference, adding that he has “never known the party to be as divided as it is right now”.

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