Trouble for Sunak as heartland Tory MPs left ‘vulnerable’ by PM’s net zero U-turns

Rishi Sunak’s decision to backtrack on key climate policies could leave Conservative MPs in heartland seats vulnerable, polling suggests.

Research by pollsters Survation found support for climate action particularly high in Tory-held constituencies in the southeast of England, where the Tories are facing a series of challenges by the Lib Dems and Labour. The Tories are predicted to hold just 29 out of 52 seats in the southeast, according to analysis of over 20,000 voters by the firm.

It comes as Mr Sunak jettisoned a long list of net zero pledges, including delaying a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars until 2035, and introducing diluted targets for the phasing out of gas boilers. He was also widely mocked for axing policies that did not exist – such as theoretical new taxes on meat or “compulsory” car sharing – topics which are often fodder for online disinformation.

However, the party’s stance on green issues has proven a vote winner in at least one constituency, as the Tories won the Uxbridge byelection by opposing Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the Ulez anti-pollution scheme.

Ulez has proven to be a divisive issue, with a backlash from motorists forced to pay a daily £12.50 charge if their vehicles do not meet low emissions standards. The Conservatives capitalised on the discontent and rode it to a narrow victory in July, in a seat thought to be Labour’s for the taking.

But in a fresh blow for Mr Sunak, Survation found the most marginal constituencies in Tory heartland seats overwhelmingly support almost all specific climate policies polled. In addition, almost three in four of these constituents (72 per cent) said those policies would influence how they voted.

Georgia Whitaker, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace, which commissioned the polling, said: “Voters in the most hotly contested seats are saying that climate change matters to them, and they want bold policies to tackle it.

“But in a desperate attempt to play politics with the climate, Sunak risks haemorrhaging his party’s support in Tory strongholds and key marginals.

“This endless flip-flopping on such vital issues will not only leave people with higher bills and a damaged economy, but it could badly backfire against Sunak’s party at the next election unless the government changes tack.”

Rishi Sunak dumped key net zero policies earlier this week (EPA)
Rishi Sunak dumped key net zero policies earlier this week (EPA)

Some 85 per cent of voters in the blue wall want the government to provide more financial support to insulate homes, while almost four in five (73 per cent) want more government funding for heat pumps.

And 88 per cent want to see more investment in renewable power, while 79 per cent want rail travel subsidised to ensure it is always cheaper than driving.

Greenpeace has launched a campaign to encourage people to become “climate voters” at the next general election, expected next year.

They want voters to choose candidates who are committed to reducing the UK’s emissions in line with scientific advice and improving nature.

Activists said they were aiming to recruit at least 1 million climate voters and would be knocking on doors across the country but especially in marginal and blue wall areas.

The campaign has received support from high-profile celebrities including Stephen Fry, Olivia Colman, Mel B, Will Poulter and Joe Lycett, who have also put their signature to an open letter alongside 100,000 other people demanding politicians take stronger action on climate.

Actor Peter Capaldi backs the Greenpeace campaign (Getty)
Actor Peter Capaldi backs the Greenpeace campaign (Getty)

Actor Peter Capaldi, who is also backing the campaign, said: “It can feel overwhelming when you look at all the crises we are facing, like the cost of living, extreme weather, and pollution choking our rivers and seas.

“But none of this is inevitable and, although we’re clearly already suffering the effects of extreme weather, there’s still time to change direction.

“I stand with people all over the country who are demanding climate action for our NHS, our economy and our planet. A safer, healthier future for all is within our grasp if politicians can be bold and brave enough to deliver it.

“It’s up to us to demand that our political leaders listen, and deliver on what the country and our children deserve.”