No matter how hard the Tories try, voters are not listening anymore - Bill Carmichael

Speaking to friends and colleagues, and listening in to conversations in the pub or on the train, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the public has made up its mind about the current government, and there is little Rishi Sunak and his team can do to change that.

They can keep talking, but voters are not listening anymore. The problem for the Conservatives isn’t a wave of enthusiasm for Sir Keir Starmer and Labour. Far from it. This isn’t the ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ vibe that swept Tony Blair to power in 1997, nor even the Corbyn mini surge that cost Theresa May her majority in 2017.

Perhaps the one thing Sir Keir has become famous for is U-turns and backpedalling, junking previous policy pledges, such as the £28bn green spending promise, and the current shifting position on a ceasefire in Gaza to appease the party’s antisemites. Such vacillation and evasion has left voters distinctly unimpressed.

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No, the problem for the Conservatives is not that their supporters are running to Labour, but that, as demonstrated in recent by-elections, Tory voters are simply staying at home on polling day.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street, London. PIC: Stefan Rousseau/PA WirePrime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street, London. PIC: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street, London. PIC: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Is that any surprise? I doubt that many people who gave Boris Johnson a thumping victory in 2019 thought they were voting for open borders, rampant inflation, an economic recession, and the highest tax burden since World War II. The Tories have only themselves to blame.

Sure, the pandemic followed by the war in Ukraine were unprecedented events that helped blow the government off course, but the Conservatives have lost sight of who they are supposed to be fighting for.

Imagine that over the next few months everything goes right for the Prime Minister - the establishment blob is finally defeated over asylum seekers and flights take off for Rwanda, and the boats are stopped crossing the Channel; the economy comes out of recession and begins to grow, inflation is tamed, and the Chancellor cuts taxes in the spring Budget.

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Would it be enough to swing things Rishi’s way? I am starting to doubt it.

Any politician who wants to reconnect with the voters who could propel them to power should accompany me on my early morning commute. Catch any early train or bus into Leeds, Sheffield or Wakefield and take a look around the carriage. I guarantee you will see the nation’s grafters who work hard in often poorly paid jobs, pay their taxes, obey the law, and do their best to raise their families.

Women and ethnic minorities are overrepresented on these journeys, and I sometimes play a game with myself trying to guess their jobs - health staff, cleaners, construction workers, shop staff and call centre operatives.

If a party wants to gain power it should ensure that every single policy in the manifesto passes one simple test - will it make the lives of these people better?

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The reason politicians, both left and right, have become so disconnected from their voters is that you don’t often see them shivering in the pouring rain at a bus stop at 5am, or catching the 6.18 crowded train into Leeds.

As the general election gets closer we are starting to get some idea of what a Labour government will look like, and it is not an encouraging sight.

For my money the Shadow Chancellor and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves is absolutely right to impose strict fiscal discipline on Labour’s spending plans. But that means the radical ideas, like the green growth plan, have to be ditched. Anyone expecting sweeping progressive changes under Labour is likely to be sorely disappointed.

Instead Labour seems increasingly likely to concentrate on toxic culture war issues that mean little to most people beyond the ideologues and fanatics.

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Take for example two recent policy pledges. One is to impose VAT on private school fees, and the other is to close so-called loopholes in the fox hunting ban by outlawing drag hunting.

Sure the vindictive class warriors will love this, but I look around the carriage on my early morning train and ask myself, would such policies make the lives of my fellow passengers any better? No, of course not. It would not make the blindest bit of difference.

Come the general election voters will be faced with an uninspiring choice between a Conservative party that has run out of steam, and a Labour party that never had any puff in the first place.

I am convinced that if any party produced a manifesto that passed my early morning train test it would win by a landslide.

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