Rishi Sunak beating Keir Starmer in just four constituencies, poll reveals

Labour leader is preferred PM in 390 seats – even beating Sunak in his own Richmond constituency

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Sunday 31 December 2023 13:31
Rishi Sunak hails a ‘momentous’ 2023 in New Year’s message

Rishi Sunak is facing an uphill battle to make the general election a presidential-style contest, as a shock new poll reveals he is voters’ preferred PM in only a handful of constituencies across Britain.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is the most popular leader in 390 seats in England, Wales and Scotland – while Mr Sunak is voters’ first choice in just four seats.

Mr Starmer is even ahead of Mr Sunak in the prime minister’s own North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond, in a series of grim survey findings for the Conservatives.

It comes as Tory chairman Richard Holden revealed there was still a “one-third” chance Mr Sunak could hold an earlier-than-expected general election in May 2024.

And Mr Sunak has been branded “weak and desperate” as Boris Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings claimed that he and Mr Sunak held top-secret meetings about returning as a No 10 strategist ahead of the election.

As election fever mounts, a major new seat-by-seat analysis by Focaldata for the Best for Britain campaign group found that Mr Starmer is beating Mr Sunak in hundreds of constituencies on the question of who makes the best PM.

Nationally, the Labour leader is the ahead of his Tory rival by 32 per cent to 22 per cent. Only Braintree, Castle Point, Clacton and North Bedfordshire put Mr Sunak ahead of Mr Starmer and undecideds.

And the Tory leader is third choice on preferred PMs in his own seat of Richmond. “Don’t know” was local voters’ top response with 32 per cent, Sir Keir came second with 27 per cent, and Mr Sunak third at just 24 per cent.

Sunak is preferred PM in only four constituencies

The only silver lining for the prime minister comes from the large proportion of undecided voters still up for grabs. The number of “don’t knows” on the question of preferred PM were ahead in 238 seats.

The poll also shows that 61 per cent of voters want an early general election by at least May, with only 17 per cent hoping the PM waits until autumn to call the vote.

Mr Holden, the Tory chairman, told the Mail on Sunday: “The chance of a May election is about a third. It is more likely to be at the back end of the year. My job is to be ready whenever it happens.”

Despite the possibility of going early, Tory election strategist Isaac Levido has “pencilled in” a likely election for 14 November, according to the Sunday Times.

The 10,000-person MRP poll by Focaldata also revealed a high level of interest in tactical voting, and widespread dismay with Brexit. Some 52 per cent, potentially representing 16 million voters, said they would consider voting tactically.

Some 9 in 10 of self-identified tactical voters said Brexit has increased the cost of the weekly shop. And a majority (55 per cent) of these undecided tactical voters want Labour to seek a closer relationship with the EU.

The MRP poll also found that Labour lead the Tories nationally by 35 per cent to 19 per cent. The Electoral Calculus analysis of these results point to Labour winning 415 seats – a huge majority of 180 seats for Sir Keir. The Tories would lose around 200 seats and be left with just 151 MPs.

Labour leader Keir Starmer is preferred PM in 390 seats

Naomi Smith, chief executive of the internationalist campaign group Best for Britain, said: “The message in our polling from voters is clear – they want an election, they think Brexit has hurt them in their pockets, and they’re prepared to vote tactically for change.”

She added: “With the possibility of Farage’s party offering a life raft to his vulnerable friends on the Conservative right, tactical voting will be more important than ever.”

It comes as the PM face fresh outrage over a shock report claiming that he asked Mr Cummings for advice to help the Tories ”smash” Labour when Britain goes to the polls.

Dominic Cummings says Sunak wanted advice on how to win the election

Mr Cummings told the Sunday Times that he urged Mr Sunak to abandon his cautious economic approach, hold an emergency budget, settle the NHS strikes and double the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate of income tax from £50,271 to £100,000.

He also reportedly advocated leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as part of the Rwanda deportation plan.

No 10 has not denied Mr Cummings’ account of a secret meeting, but said no job offer was made. A Downing Street source said: “It was a broad discussion about politics and campaigning, no job was offered.”

The Liberal Democrats have called for an official Cabinet Office inquiry into whether Mr Sunak breached the ministerial code by failing to declare his “shady” meetings with Mr Cummings.

The party pointed to Mr Sunak’s transparency returns, which do not include the meetings, and urged an inquiry to look at whether the discussions were reported to the Cabinet Office, as required under the code.

A government spokesperson said: “In full accordance with the ministerial code, meetings with private individuals to discuss political matters do not need to be declared.”

It came as a video re-emerged showing Mr Sunak claiming during the summer Tory leadership contest that Mr Cummings would have “absolutely nothing to do with any government that I am privileged to lead”.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy questioned Mr Sunak’s judgement over “secret meetings” with “this loathsome individual who has brought so much chaos on our country”.

The frontbencher told his LBC programme: “You’d have thought he would have learned something from his poor judgement on Suella Braverman.”

Meanwhile, Brexit campaign financier Arron Banks has said he would seek to raise £10m from defecting Tory donors for Reform UK if Nigel Farage makes comeback to lead the party.

“One of the things about Nigel ... is he can cut through to the red-wall seats in a way that Richard Tice doesn’t,” the EU.Leave co-founder told the Sunday Times. “My view is we could raise £10m to kick Reform into the next league – that’s obviously a Nigel-dependent thing.”

Mr Banks added: “A lot of Tory donors love [Mr Farage] … I think their view is that if Rishi isn’t replaced post haste, they could possibly get behind Reform. You are pushing at a half-open door. There are Tory donors who are absolutely furious.”

Mr Sunak said the public should look forward with “pride and optimism” to 2024 as he insisted his economic plan was already working in his new year message. Sir Keir challenged voters in his end-of-year message – saying the future of Britain “rests in their hands” at the upcoming general election.

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