Rishi Sunak: working-class champion?
New polling shows that low-income voters prefer the PM to Keir Starmer
Rishi Sunak is rich. His wife, Akshata Murty, is even richer. Their combined fortune is put at £730 million — over twice the estimated wealth of King Charles III and Queen Camilla. He has a £180 mug. He even admitted (a long time ago) on TV that he has “no working-class friends”. This has prompted the Labour Party to repeatedly claim that the Prime Minister is out of touch and, crucially, that he is too rich to properly understand the working-class voters won over to the Tory cause by Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
Sunak will be buoyed, then, by the findings of a new YouGov poll, which shows that he is regarded by the public, albeit narrowly, as a better leader than Keir Starmer. This includes a small lead (+3%) among working-class voters. Not too bad for a multi-millionaire.
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There are some caveats here. It is often easier for people to imagine the current PM as a national leader because, well, that’s what they already do: this is a luxury that the Opposition lacks. These differences, on sub-samples, are also small. But it does suggest that Labour is struggling in its mission to paint Sunak as an out-of-touch posh boy. There are fairly obvious reasons for this.
Firstly, it does not seem like Labour under Starmer has anything positive to put forward. He has done admirable work in forcing antisemitism out of the party, but nobody thinks “we used to be full of racist cranks, but now we’re not” is a winner on the doorstep. Secondly, the Labour leader is hardly the epitome of working-class grit — he is Sir Keir Starmer, after all — and how many blokes in working-class towns have their own statutory instrument allowing them to avoid paying tax? This would appear to be a case of one rule for them and another for us.
Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, there has been a class-based shift in party support over recent years, turbocharged by Brexit. If we take the traditional measure of social class — AB (roughly upper- and middle-middle class), C1 (lower-middle class), C2 (skilled working-class), and DE (semi-skilled and unskilled working class) — we can see the changes clearly. In 1997 the Conservatives led Labour among ABs by 10 points, and drew level with them among C1s. Among the C2 group they trailed by 23 points and among DE by 39 points. By 2010, the Conservatives led among AB, C1, and C2 voters (13, 11 and 8 points respectively), and trailed by just 10 points among DEs. By 2019, however, the Conservatives led among all social classes.
Yet what is most striking is that the gap between support for the Conservatives over Labour among the middle class and the working class has shrunk — from a massive 49 points between AB and DE in 1997 to just 13 points in 2019. Working-class Brits have become more Tory, just as middle-class Britain has become more supportive of Labour.
In light of this narrowing of the class divide amongst voting intention, it should be less of a surprise that leadership evaluations follow suit. Take, for instance, the question of “who would make the best prime minister”. In July 2019, the newly-elected Johnson beat Jeremy Corbyn by +17 among ABC1s and by +25 among C2DEs. He later beat Starmer by 17 and 32 points among ABC1s and C2DEs respectively. Although Starmer bested Truss upon her election, his lead was much greater among the former social group (+36) than the latter (+19). And although Sunak trailed Sir Keir among the wealthier brackets (-10 points) at the end of last year, the new PM did lead among the less well-off (+2).
What can we take from this? Labour’s labelling of Sunak as “out of touch” is likely to be met with a muted response given the structural changes in party support among the electorate. That Sunak is very wealthy is already “priced in” to evaluations about him and, although he lacks Johnson’s star quality, he also lacks the chaos and moral failings that brought his great rival’s premiership to an untimely end.
In general I think voters care less about the personal wealth or class of their leaders than politicians or journalists (especially left-wing ones) appear to assume. Boris was hardly a council estate boy, was he? Personally I care about the policies – if a politician being very rich makes them “out of touch” to the extent they have bad or unworkable solutions to the issues facing the country, that’s a problem – but it’s still the policies themselves that are the problem in that case. Labour do themselves no favours by focusing on the class / wealth thing – it may motivate their base, but not too many others.
I think you’re right, and also there’s other subtle factors at play.
It’s a working-class trope but “I’d go for a pint with him” gives Sunak the upper hand here too – even if he’s never actually drunk a pint in his life! Whilst Sunak turning up at your local might seem odd, he’d somehow find himself having a chat with the locals whilst Starmer would likely be cold-shouldered, almost entirely due to the look on his face, which is ineffably off-putting.
Well, he was chased out of that pub in Bath – by a Labour voting landlord!
I’ve been a Sunak fan for ages – unlike a lot of others, I wasn’t put off by the fact that he was clearly the smartest kid in class.
Even if you think that Boris had “star quality” (which I never did), then that is no substitute for the ability to understand complex issues AND actually get stuff done rather than just bloviate all the time. It also helps that Sunak hasn’t got caught up in stupid discussions about cervixes.
I remember Sunak being criticised after a while in No. 10 because he hadn’t “made a big splash”. Everyone in the UK should have been relieved that he hadn’t, there were already far too many of them in the past few years. Truss and Johnson delivered headline-grabbing adrenaline hits and Johnson altered the entire course of the UK’S political history…but these things wrought destruction too. Creative destruction is, at the end of the day, also destruction.
Now is the time for the boring, plodding work of mending and making things better.
Slow and steady smartypants Sunak can win the race.
I was luke-warm on him and preferred Kemi Badenoch for the leadership but I have come round on him.
Kemi’s time will come for sure. She was a bit inexperienced at the time of the last leadership competition. Sunak had already been Chancellor.
One thing I noted was the departure from the alternation of interesting/boring PMs that has gone on for decades; arguably since 1945. This is not to say boring was always bad and interesting good or vice versa. Both Johnson and Truss were far from dull. This is my personal hypothesis as to why her premiership was doomed and someone a bit boring (if more capable) had to take over. Moreover, if this is true then the utterly bland Sir Kneeler will be doomed. although it might lay the foundations for ‘Our Angie’, the Hon. Member for Shameless to ascend.
This survey suggests being a woke left winger makes you considerably more out of touch than being a rich man of Indian origin.
Labour thinking seems to be (a) the thick working class are a bunch of racists so will not favour an Indian politician over a white one and (b) they will think someone is out of touch because he has made money and married a very rich woman.
Lo and behold the traditional “working class” turn out to be intelligent enough not to worry about race and are not put off by the fact that someone has made money and married a rich woman. Nor do they seem to be put off by slurs that Sunak is a friend of the kiddy fiddler or any of the other political tricks Labour employ.
Like most of the rest of us they decide on the basis of who might govern the country best and like the rest of us they they have different opinions on this. Indeed some are not put off by kneeler Sir Kier of the “special pension arrangement” who thinks that only 1% of women have dangling bits and is not at all out of touch with the common man because his father was one.
The only thing worse than a lower middle class sweet sherry and Earl Grey sipping Tory, is a lower middle class patronising woke labourite.
I’m increasingly comfortable with my bet on the Tories to be the largest party by seats at the next election. My bet that the Tories will get an overall majority still looks a stretch, but the odds were good and there’s time yet.
Yes, I think that would be my bet too. Labour were riding high in the polls by default rather than any actual merit or belief that they’re going to do stuff better. The attack ads even made me think they actively don’t want to win the election. What on earth did they think they’d gain from them in the absence of a corresponding “This is the genius solution we’re going to go with instead” campaign???
The problem for Starmer is that his party gives a strong impression of despising the working classes.
Sunak has a number of factors that attract working class voters, viz.:
– Rishi ” does not need the salary” , so is not in it to keep his job at any cost.
– He had made his own fortune.
– He is not lower middle class.
– He is a Hindu, and therefore a perfect foil against islamic ambitions.
The last working class person Starmer met threw him out of his pub.
Same story as America. Labour has forsaken their working class roots to embrace the perspective of the wealthy and educated. the Tories figured this out and tacked toward the abandoned working class, hence the collapse of the red wall. However they don’t seem to know how to translate that into policy yet; when it comes to the C2 and DE working class, the Tories can “talk the talk” but not “walk the walk” yet.
American Republicans are even more behind the 8-ball though. They’re still fighting a civil war over whether to try and recapture the big-business / educated / wealthy constituency that used to make up the GOP, or pivot to populism (I hate that word) and embrace the American working class which has been abandoned by the Democrats. They don’t realize that the argument is pointless, as the wealthy and educated have already switched parties and aren’t coming back. The GOP will either embrace the working class or go the way of the Whigs and make room for a party that can accept reality.
Callaghan out-polled Thatcher, so perhaps not that unique a trend that the actual PM does better than their party.
Certainly Sunak garners and deserves more respect than the other more recent dreadful choices of Tory party membership, and the cheerleaders in right wing press and commentariat. Only last summer they were all highly critical of Sunak but now realising there is one life-raft left and they better clamber into it quickly.
Sunak’s undoubtedly smart and hard working. But what does he stand for is as much a question for him as for Starmer. Currently it’s a gradual, stealth like move back towards close working with EU. V sensible, but wait til the coast is clear and the crackpots will surface again blathering about a betrayal.
Working with the EU is necessary and progress is ongoing.
The main roadblock has been the EU’s petulance.
No, just the reality of being a 3rd party now as we wanted. It really is snowflake stuff for leave supporters to start complaining the EU not being nice to us. The naivety beggars belief.
We wanted a hard Brexit and hard Borders…didn’t we? We make trading with our biggest market more difficult there are going to be consequences. But let’s hope it’s all worth it.
Brendan is right. Don’t make the mistake of viewing the world through Remainer goggles.
Was just playing back how Sunak is acting – step by step getting back closer to the EU. You can make a judgment on why that might be necessary
It already is worth it.
The Sunk-Cost fallacy will continue to drive some for sure and for some time.
The EU is supposed to be acting in the interests of its members. It could start by accepting that the UK has left their ongoing political project and end their extended hissy fit. Both parties need to trade with each other, that’s a given. If it was only about trade, Brexit wouldn’t have been necessary.
So did Michael Foot, on 49-50% in 1981.
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