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Rishi Sunak dismisses dire poll predicting 1997-style general election wipeout for Tories

Rishi Sunak has dismissed the significance of a damning opinion poll predicting the Tories are on track for a 1997-style general election wipeout.

The research, which was commissioned by Tory donors working with arch-Brexiteer David Frost, suggests the Conservatives are facing a humiliating defeat with several senior MPs set to lose their seats.

The YouGov survey of 14,000 people suggests the Tories could retain as few as 169 seats, while Labour would sweep into power with 385 – giving Sir Keir Starmer a massive 120-seat majority.

The survey, published by The Daily Telegraph, predicts chancellor Jeremy Hunt could be one of 11 cabinet ministers to lose their seats, in what would be the biggest collapse in support for a governing party since 1906.

Other ministers under threat include education secretary Gillian Keegan, defence secretary Grant Shapps and the Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson.

But this morning Sunak played down the research during a visit to Essex, and said: “There have been lots of polls over the last year, there will be hundreds more polls. The only one that matters is the one when the general election comes.”

Rishi Sunak visited Leigh-on-Sea in Essex on Monday, and dismissed the importance of the latest poll (PA)
Rishi Sunak visited Leigh-on-Sea in Essex on Monday, and dismissed the importance of the latest poll (PA)

“[Keir Starmer] doesn’t have a plan,” Mr Sunak said. He added that the “choice” was clear: “Stick with the plan that is delivering change, making a difference, or go back to square one.”

Though Labour may be happy with the predictions, it too has underplayed the significance of the poll.

Asked about the survey on a trip to Barnet, Sir Keir said: “My message to every single Labour Party member, every single MP, every single candidate, is ignore that poll. We have to earn every vote, respect every vote and we should always, always, fight like we’re 5 per cent behind.”

Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, Pat McFadden, also told Labour candidates and members to “ignore” the findings.

Writing on Twitter/X, he said: “Fight like we are behind. Fight like every vote matters. Change will only come for the country if people vote for it, and not a single vote has been cast.”

The polling results have been released just one day before the Rwanda bill returns to parliament, which have led some to suggest that it is part of a wider plot to undermine Sunak’s leadership.

The blue-on-blue research was commissioned by a group of Tory donors who have called themselves the “Conservative Britain Alliance”, led by former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost.

David Frost, a leading Sunak critic, offered a bleak warning to Tories (EPA)
David Frost, a leading Sunak critic, offered a bleak warning to Tories (EPA)

Lord Frost, a Conservative peer who has been critical of Sunak’s leadership, described the poll’s findings as “stunningly awful” and said the party was facing “a 1997-style wipeout – if we are lucky”.

He said that the only way to bring back 2019 voters was to be “as tough as it takes” on immigration, reverse tax increases and do a U-turn on renewable energy measures.

He said: “It is to set out a vision for why Conservative Britain will be different to the immigration-boosting, Brexit-undermining, taxing, spending, regulating, nannying, hectoring nightmare that Labour will bring. And it is to stop doing all those things ourselves.”

Responding to the findings, Paul Goodman, editor of Conservative Home, questioned the timing of the poll in an article entitled “A leadership ballot? The game’s afoot”.

Writing in an op-ed, he said: “I smell a rat – or the seventh cavalry, depending on one’s view. A poll takes time to research, but can be published quickly. It can be saved up for the most suitable moment in the view of those who have commissioned it and perhaps also those willing to publish it.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MPs have already begun to express concern about the results and emphasised the importance of implementing legislation to stop the small boats crisis.

Simon Clarke, who was a cabinet minister under Liz Truss, warned that the polling results meant the Tories were on course for a “disaster”.

“The time for half measures is over”, he wrote on Twitter/X. “We either deliver on small boats or we will be destroyed.”

Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, said the poll shows why the party should bring back Boris Johnson, saying: “Get Boris into a seat and out campaigning or consign us to socialism forevermore.”

And Zac Goldsmith, another ally of Mr Johnson, responded: “Thank God for those clever-clog ‘Tory grandees’ who got rid of Boris. Dodged a bullet there didn’t they! Genius.”

But Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s former chief of staff at No 10, fired back: “The party was on course to lose under Johnson. By the time Sunak took over, the situation was probably irrecoverable.”