Almost one in three voters say they trust today’s political leaders the least of any they can remember, according to a damning poll that lays bare the scale of disillusionment in politics.
A survey by Public First found that 30 per cent of people trust the current generation of politicians “the least of any I can remember”. Only 55 per cent of respondents said they would definitely vote at the next election. Almost a third (29 per cent) of the remaining 900 respondents said that one factor holding them back was having no confidence in any of the party leaders - a figure rising to 35 per cent among those who backed the Conservatives in 2019.
Expressing similar views, members of a focus group of northern working-class voters said they believed the answer was a “British version of Trump” who “gets the job done”. “As crazy as he is, you know what you’re getting with him,” said Leanne, a 41-year-old hairdresser in Bolton, Greater Manchester.
Ed Shackle, an associate director at Public First, said the findings showed there was “ample room for a new party or new political figure” to seize on public disillusionment in current political leaders.
Some remarks in two groups of voters suggested that Rishi Sunak’s declaration that he was “being straight with people” over his postponement of net zero measures last week may find favour with the public.
Paul, a 42-year-old accountant from West Bromwich, in the West Midlands, said: “If it had to be pushed back I’m glad they told us rather than just lied about it and pushed it under the carpet.
But both the poll and the focus groups, convened by Public First for the Telegraph, suggest that the public holds a grim view of the current crop of politicians.
The poll of 2,003 voters, carried out between Sept 5 and Sept 7, found that the most popular descriptions chosen to describe the current state of politics were “disappointed”, “worried”, “pessimistic”, “ashamed”, “angry” and “betrayed”.
Overall, almost one in three (30 per cent) respondents said they trusted incumbent politicians the least of any they could remember. One third of the 899 respondents who were not certain that they would vote at the next election said that “nothing changes” regardless of who they voted for - a view shared by 28 per cent of those who backed the Conservatives in 2019.
The 35 per cent of 2019 Tory voters who said they would not definitely vote because they had no confidence in any of the party leaders, was significantly above the proportion of Labour (21 per cent) and Liberal Democrat (22 per cent) voters expressing a similar view.
Mr Shackle added: “Increasingly, people are despairing at the state of our politics. While they think politicians don’t come close to understanding the cost of living crisis, anger runs much deeper. They feel they have been endlessly lied to on things as varied as immigration and the NHS. They think politicians just don’t get it and will say anything to stay in power.”
Deep-rooted disillusionment in politics and politicians was apparent in both focus groups held last week for this newspaper - one of voters in West Bromwich and another of voters in Bolton, Greater Manchester. All of those present backed the Conservatives in 2019.
“They’re just all the same”, said David, a 40-year-old plasterer from Bolton who was clearly not alone in holding the sentiments that followed.
“Whichever one gets in, there’s always something for themselves in that special little club. And it’s the common man, the common person doesn’t stand a chance. But what can you do?”
Susan, 63, a care worker also living in Bolton, described the current state of politics as a “total shambles” and said she had “no trust in any of them, no matter what they say.”
She added: “When it’s coming up to a general election, you’re going to get a lot of promises ‘blahdy blahdy blahdy blah’. And then none of it happens. So not a lot of people have got a lot of faith.”
Several participants in the groups suggested their current level of mistrust in politicians was partly down to rule-breaking in Whitehall during the Covid pandemic.
”In 10 Downing Street they broke every single rule that they set,” said David. “I know this further on than when it happened. But you still cannot forget about all that because that was major. They set the rules and the standards. and the b----- health secretary is playing kissy catch in the back office. It’s just absolutely scandalous.”
Terry, 57, who also lives in Bolton and works in a warehouse, added: “I believe it looks like Tom Brown’s School Days. They are messing about in secondary school. That’s what they feel like... lying, cheating and doing all kinds of whatever.”
He said that politicians have “got a lot of sucking up to do” to earn back trust, adding: “All people want them to do is to talk the truth.” Politicians should be “examples” to the rest of the country but instead are a “shambles”, he said.
Josephine, a 64-year-old sales assistant, said she was reluctant to vote for the Conservatives at the next election because “if I voted Conservative it would be like I was condoning and excusing everything that the Conservatives messed up on the last few years.”
Members of the Bolton focus group suggested they would be open to supporting a new political party if one were to emerge. But there was little appetite for existing political figures to act as a figurehead.
‘I could relate to Trump’
Josephine said: “I would like to see a British version of Trump, personally… he put America first. He did the gas pipeline, he did [stuff] on immigration.
“Even though he’s a millionaire, I could relate to Trump. I could sit here and have a conversation with him and listen to him and believe him. Whereas, our politicians, I don’t trust them one bit. I just think they just go with the flow, say what they think they want to hear, but there’s no action.”
Leanne, 41, a hairdresser, agreed, saying that Britain needs “someone like Trump” because he would “get the job done”.
”Our Prime Ministers have given us a lot of false promises, basically lied to us, told us to do one thing when they do another. Where, with Trump, as crazy as he is, you know what you’re getting with him. And I think the UK do need someone like that, to sort the country out.”
By contrast, said Susan, a 63-year-old care worker, “I haven’t seen Rishi do a right lot.”
There was a feeling that Mr Sunak was unable to relate to working class voters as a result of his wealth.
Kelly, a 46-year-old support worker in West Bromwich, said: “He’s trying as much as somebody can that has no clue about regular people.”
“They all went to certain schools… I don’t think any of them really know what it’s like to be on the breadline,” said Leon, 40, a driver in West Bromwich.
Terry, the warehouse worker in Bolton, added: “Keir Starmer is like an actor. He won’t say anything out of turn.”
He continued: “How the Conservatives have behaved for the last couple of years, you would think the Labour Party would be right up there, everything shining for them”. But Labour have “come up with nothing definite for people to believe in them”.
Despite the public’s frustration with politics, only 12 per cent of those polled said they would probably, or definitely, not vote at the next election.
Sian, 44, a manager in the education sector, said: “The only thing that keeps me voting is, at one point women weren’t able to vote. So I do it for that reason.”