express– From migration to a looming cost of living crisis, working-class Leave voters who backed the Tory party at the 2019 election have voiced concerns about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government. Two focus groups spoke to residents in Bury South, a Red Wall seat won by the Conservatives with a majority of just 402, and Old Bexley and Sidcup, the former constituency of the late James Brokenshire, the highly regarded former minister who recently died of cancer. Old Bexley and Sidcup has a by-election tabled for December 2.
In both locations, fears about the rising cost of living featured heavily in discussions about participants’ everyday concerns, together with migration, the NHS and housing.
Tom Banks, director of Public First North – who ran the focus groups – said that he saw “serious questions being asked of [Johnson’s] Government.”
He said: “The Prime Minister and his Government are entering a critical period in their relationship with working-class leave voters.
“While those who ‘lent’ their vote to Boris Johnson in 2019 are not having full-blown buyers’ remorse, there are now serious questions being asked of his Government.”
This comes as the Conservative party has started lagging behind Labour in recent opinion polls.
A YouGov survey carried out in early November for the Times put the Tories level with the Labour Party, while a Savanta ComRes poll for the Daily Mail put Labour six points ahead.
In both focus groups spoken to by Public First, members consistently flagged cost of living concerns, such as “more taxes”, “inflation”, “fuel costs”, “interest rate rises”, and “energy prices” as their major issues.
Stephen, 61, a warehouse manager in Bury said: “It’s not pennies anymore. We’re jumping up in 50 pence chunks now.
“It used to be five pence here or 10 pence there, whether it’s on your cornflakes or your fuel, ciggies or whatever. Now it’s just going stupid.”
“Every year inflation and wages have always gone up … now the gap between the two is getting to the point where people just won’t be able to live.”
Clare, 41, a sales assistant and mother-of-four from Bury said: “Diesel is dearer, we’ve had a notification from the mobile phone company saying that they are going to have to put the prices up in April …
“Christmas shopping… there are no sales, there are no offers, so presents for the kids have been dearer.”
Meanwhile, Derrick, a 59-year-old sales manager and father-of-two in Bexley said: “Everything seems to be going up apart from my salary.”
Mike, 38, a leisure centre manager in Bexley added: “I owe my landlord a lot of money now, because of Covid, because I had to reduce my payments. I’ve lost all my savings.
“The way that all the costs are coming up, energy and electric and fuel, disposable income that I could save with has got smaller and smaller and smaller to the point where I’m getting up, I’m going to work, I’m coming home and going to bed and I’m not earning any extra money.
“And with this new National Insurance rise and fuel, I’m essentially looking at almost being in debt by the end of every month now.”
Immigration is another issue at the forefront of voters’ minds, with Derrick describing it as a “fundamental elephant in the room.”
Speaking to the focus group, which was commissioned by the Telegraph, he said: “There is a fundamental elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, and that’s the fact that the population is just spiralling out of control.
“We’re a small, piddly little island … we’ve got too many people for the space that we’re in, we haven’t got enough doctors [for the population size].”
However, others who were increasingly concerned about the NHS felt that the lack of immigration has been problematic.
Derrick, in Bexley, added: “There are jobs that fundamentally, as Brits, we don’t want to do.
“We don’t want to sweep the streets, we don’t want to clean the toilets … so we have to bring people over.”