‘Best of a bad bunch’: voters in ‘red wall’ willing to give Rishi Sunak a chance – The Guardian

Panel of Sedgefield voters say they have lost faith with politicians, and Keir Starmer is not doing enough
Voters in the historic “red wall” seat of Sedgefield in County Durham, where Tony Blair was once elected to parliament, are willing to give Rishi Sunak a chance to improve their prospects as the cost of living crisis deepens, since they say Keir Starmer is “not making a case for himself”.
Members of a focus group convened by UK More in Common for the Guardian described Sunak as “the money man”, with a CV that proves he was the “best of a bad bunch” of Conservative leadership candidates.
“He does seem competent and seems to have the ability to move the [Conservative] party forward,” said Steve, who questioned why the Tories didn’t vote for him in the first leadership election instead of his predecessor, Liz Truss.
“Rishi is a money-oriented guy. You’d want someone who knows how to retain money and has the platform to change things without having an overbearing personality,” said Jurome, a 37-year-old delivery driver.
But he feels hopeless and fears for the future of the country because the government “knows they’re not doing a good job” and has rolled out policies to tackle the energy crisis that only help the richest.
“We had someone who was literally outlived by a lettuce,” he said, referring to the Daily Star’s Liz Truss challenge. “It doesn’t fill the country with hope that things can actually improve. People like us who work relatively regular jobs have been put into a state of flux because we’re having to worry about what our future looks like. There doesn’t seem to be a plan that’s going to help us out of this.”
The five participants, from mixed backgrounds, used the words “chaotic”, “flux”, “failing” and “uncertain” to describe what Britain has been like in 2022, placing much of the blame on Boris Johnson’s dishonesty and Truss’s “cameo appearance”, insisting they would not want Johnson to return to No 10.
Westley, 43, a sales manager, said he was “not filled with faith” in the Tory party, but throughout the Covid pandemic “Rishi was flagged as a hero with his campaign to keep people out of work”.
He admitted he hadn’t got to know many of the leadership candidates, but said: “Since Rishi helped people during Covid with the ‘eat out to help out’ [campaign] and keeping people at work during Covid, he had the great ideas to keep our pockets full. None of the Tories can fully be trusted, but he seems like the obvious choice.”
Laura fears Sunak “hasn’t been completely honest’” about his family’s tax avoidance and while he “has potential” to fix the country’s economy, he could end up leaving like Boris Johnson because of “his past”.
Steve added: “I don’t know why he wasn’t selected in the first place. Maybe there’s a lot more to come about his history. Boris had Partygate, Cameron had the Panama [offshore trust] scandal.”
In his first speech as prime minister, Sunak vowed to win the public’s trust with a government of “integrity, professionalism and accountability”, going on to say that “trust is earned and I will earn yours”. Paying tribute to Johnson for his “incredible achievements”, he made sure to highlight that the 2019 mandate was for the entire Conservative party, not just Johnson.
However, these voters in Sedgefield, which the Tories took from Labour in 2019 with a 12.8% swing, believe Sunak should call a general election as he was not voted in as prime minister at the time. The eldest of the group, Steve, felt betrayed and questioned why there could not be an election each time there was a change of hands at No 10, adding: “Blair was our local MP for years. When he dropped out, Brown went in but I didn’t vote for Brown. So I’m confused we don’t get elections when these people step down or are pushed out.”
The youngest of the group, Josh, a 27-year-old engineer, felt maybe a general election wasn’t needed, suggesting it was “better the devil you know”. But Laura weighed in: “We voted for the party, not that actual person, so they should have gone back to the [public] with an election.”
On Labour’s plan to help people through the impending crises: “I don’t think Keir Starmer will be able to do any of the things that he is saying he will do. I don’t have confidence that he can perform from the impression he leaves and how he comes across,” Laura told the group. The youngest members of the group, Jurome and Josh, said Starmer was good at “finger-pointing” and calling the Tories out but not good at setting out his own plan.
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“He’s in a position of power right now as he can call things out. That gives us hope because at least there is someone out there who is holding people at that level accountable. But we’re not seeing what his solutions are.”
Steve said he preferred Starmer’s deputy, Angela Rayner, and believed she would be biding her time before she would once again try to run for Labour leader before the next general election. “[Starmer] brings nothing new to politics. He’s a professional politician.”
Asked if there was anything Starmer could do or say to convince them to fully back him, no members of the group responded.
Despite the promises of a “serious” government, these voters still feel they cannot trust politicians. “I’ve totally lost faith with all types of politician,” Steve said. “The Lib Dems have disappeared into obscurity since their pact with Cameron … selling their soul to the devil. The Labour party has too much baggage with Corbyn, which is still getting carried through and now we have the invisible man himself.” He insists Starmer is the invisible man who is waiting “for his moment in the sun”.
“Ministers have been elected into health and education roles without background experience”, Laura said, while Westley added that he didn’t “feel safe” under any politician because they all kept changing their policy stances. “To be honest, I don’t know much about any of them. There have been lots of empty promises recently … I don’t feel like safe under anyone.”
Luke Tryl, the director of More in Common, said: “When it came to who was responsible for the economic turmoil we find ourselves in, this group in Sedgefield laid the blame squarely at the government’s door.
“Winning back their confidence won’t be easy. But the good news for Rishi Sunak was that they thought he was the best person to clean up the mess, and didn’t think that anyone else, including Keir Starmer, would do a better job.”


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