Tory MPs have been told by the party’s elections guru to ignore dire polling aimed at “undermining this Government” and warned that “divided parties fail”.
Isaac Levido told a meeting on Monday of the 1922 committee of backbenchers that those behind the survey appeared to be “throwing in the towel” and more interested in the next party leadership contest than winning the general election.
It followed a major opinion poll, reported by the Telegraph, that predicted doom for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, with the Tories on course for a 1997-style wipeout.
The research, using the multi-level regression and post-stratification (MRP) method, was commissioned by a group of Tory donors working with former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost.
The MRP technique is a way of producing estimates of opinion and attitudes for small, defined geographic areas such as parliamentary constituencies.
The YouGov survey of 14,000 people indicated that the Prime Minister’s party could hold on to as few as 169 seats, as Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour enters Downing Street with 385.
It said nearly a dozen Cabinet ministers could lose their seats, and that every so-called “red wall” seat won by Boris Johnson in 2019 could be lost at a general election this year.
But Mr Levido, the Australian political strategist who played a key role in the Tory election win in 2019, told MPs: “The idea that this poll and model is the most authoritative one published in the last five years is just false – it’s just another poll, another MRP model, with the same margins of error, the same statistical limitations as any other.
“And you know your constituencies better than me, better than any media commentators, and certainly better than any public pollster.
“But the people who organised this poll and analysed and timed the release of it seem to be intent on undermining this Government and our party, and therefore the re-election prospects of every single one of you in this room.
“They seem to be throwing in the towel, and are more interested in what happens after the election rather than fighting it – making the pathway narrower and steeper.
“Let me be clear. Divided parties fail.”
Glum-looking Tory MPs left the meeting telling reporters that Mr Levido’s briefing was “realistic”.
Others struck a more optimistic note, saying there was a “clear plan, clear strategy, polls will close” and “all to play for”.
Mr Sunak earlier played down the poll, saying that the only one that matters “is the one when the general election comes”.
He told broadcasters in Essex: “There have been lots of polls over the last year, there will be hundreds more polls.
“The choice at that election is clear, it’s stick with our plan that is working, it’s delivering change for people, ensuring they can have the peace of mind that there is a brighter future for their children and we can have renewed pride in our country.”
YouGov has issued multiple qualifications over the Telegraph’s analysis of the findings.
There were some suggestions it was being used to try to force the Prime Minister further to the right ahead of a showdown in the Commons over his Rwanda policy.
The deep divisions within the Tory ranks will be exposed this week as the Safety of Rwanda Bill faces crunch votes, with Mr Sunak under pressure from hardline Tories to make the legislation tougher.
But any significant changes are likely to be resisted by Conservative centrists, who are uneasy about the prospect of sidelining international conventions and human rights provisions.
– YouGov interviewed 14,110 adults across the country between December 12, 2023 and January 4, 2024. Constituency-level forecasts were estimated using the same method which YouGov used to predict the 2017 and 2019 UK general elections.