'You'd never see a pizza delivered by a Tory MP. They're out of touch'

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds during his speech at the Labour Party conference at the Brighton Centre. Picture date: Monday September 27, 2021.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said the public are "realising" that the government are "out of touch". (PA Images)

Whether it's HS2, Universal Credit or the toxic scandal over MPs’ second jobs, Labour are convinced they have an attack line that will stick: the Tories are out of touch.

And for Labour's Jonathan Reynolds, the latest example is Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell lamenting potential rule changes to ban second jobs, in which he claimed it would threaten the "lifestyle" of many MPs.

Rosindell had previously defended cuts to Universal Credit claiming some recipients just simply liked having more money.

“Nothing sums up this government more than the contrast between the statements on the [Universal Credit] cut, and on second jobs,” he says. "To not have the self-awareness to assume a family losing £20 a week can be easily absorbed at a time when you've got rising energy prices is out of touch.”

"I think a lot of people are realising that."

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Reynolds, MP for the Greater Manchester constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde, says the argument put forward by some Conservative MPs that it is important for them to have second jobs so they can feel connected with constituents doesn’t stack up either.

“It’s not like MPs are going to get jobs in the gig economy,” he says. “You probably never had a pizza delivered by a Conservative MP.”

It’s an approach the Labour Party is increasingly focusing on.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27:  Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves attend day three of the Labour Party conference on September 27, 2021 in Brighton, England. Labour return to Brighton for their in-person 2021 conference from Saturday 25 to Wednesday 29 September. This will be Keir Starmer's first conference as party Leader.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds says he believes Labour will win the next election. (PA Images)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has recently described Boris Johnson as a "man who has never thought the rules apply to him or to his mates”. Earlier this month he said it is "one rule for Boris Johnson and his friends, and another rule for us".

His remarks follow the prime minister's chaotic handling of the Owen Paterson lobbying affair, in which he tried to defend the now-former MP after he was found by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to have breached lobbying rules. Johnson has since admitted it was a "total mistake".

But is Labour's strategy of focusing on accusing the Tory party of being out of touch - and Johnson, in particular - really working?

What do the voters think?

The polls paint a mixed picture.

According to a YouGov poll for the Times last week, the Conservatives have lost their advantage in recent weeks - with one poll putting the two parties tied on 35% after months of a safe Tory lead.

A separate poll for the Daily Mail even put Labour six points ahead.

However, in another litmus test of public opinion, the poll-aggregating firm Britain Elects believes the Conservatives would be the largest party if there were an election tomorrow - even if it meant their current 80-seat majority was largely wiped out.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the Network Rail hub at Gascoigne Wood, near Selby, North Yorkshire, to coincide with the announcement of the Integrated Rail Plan. Picture date: Thursday November 18, 2021.
Boris Johnson's party has fallen behind in many polls in recent weeks amid accusations of 'Tory sleaze'. (PA Images)

On what has been a torrid few weeks for the government - including the high COVID-19 death toll, cuts to Universal Credit, backtracking on HS2 pledges, a fuel crisis and so-called 'Tory sleaze '- some critics say the Labour party should be performing far better than it is.

But some of the mud being thrown by Labour does appear to be sticking.

According to YouGov, 31% of the public believe Sir Keir Starmer is trustworthy - the highest number since he was elected leader in April 2020.

In contrast, just 21% say the same about Johnson - tying with the lowest figure since he became prime minister.

Most pertinently, around two-thirds of voters said they regarded Johnson's party as "sleazy".

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Can Labour cut through?

For Reynolds, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, opposing the recent Universal Credit cuts has been a priority.

Appointed to his role after Starmer won the party's leadership contest in 2020, he has expressed particular concern about how the changes will impact claimants unable to work.

"There’s a significant group of people who can’t work because of childcare or because of a serious disability," he said. "I honestly don’t know what the government thinks is the solution for those people - because it doesn’t even seem to acknowledge they exist."

While the government refused to U-turn on their decision to slash Universal Credit - insisting that it was always meant to be a "temporary" measure - it did increase the amount of money claimants get to keep as they start earning.

However, the change will only benefit the 40% of those on Universal Credit who are in work.

Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks during a press conference outlining Labour's plan for improving politics ahead of Wednesday's Opposition Day debate. Picture date: Tuesday November 16, 2021.
Recent polling suggests the public trust Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer more than they trust prime minister Boris Johnson. (PA Images)

Reynolds insists he has full confidence in Starmer to get through to voters more successfully - but admits the work to draw back voters from the traditional Labour heartlands they lost in 2019 is not yet "complete".

"We have to have the humility to say to those areas: 'We understand you didn't support us, why you made those decisions and we are now working hard to win that trust back'," he said.

"I absolutely think we're making a very strong pitch for those constituencies and, indeed, the rest of the country," he said.

"Because it's not just about winning battle places we've lost - it's obviously about getting a majority overall for a Labour government.”

He described the government's decision to rip up their pledges on sections of HS2 in the North and the Midlands as a "betrayal", and cited Universal Credit, employment rights, and transport as key areas Labour were focusing on moving forward.

"Looking around my area, nearby seats... I absolutely believe we can make a case to convince those people to come back to us," he said.

Watch: PM continues to avoid apology over Tory sleaze