Political fairness: a failure

The latest polls carried out under the banner of Lord Ashcroft have just been published. The title They think it’s all over suggests that the news for the ruling UK Conservative Party is not good. Ashcroft is a former treasurer and deputy chair of the Party – often informally called the Tories – and in recent years has mapped its decline. The subtitle of the report Can the Tories turn it round? shows Ashcroft’s own focus. But really the news from much of the polling is bad for any politician: there is not much eagerness and positivity around any party, or the overall political process.

One result in particular stands out for this blog: responses to the question of whether people believe that either the Conservatives or their rivals in the Labour Party ‘stand for fairness’.

It’s welcome that Ashcroft asks this question. With a cost of living crisis and worrying inequalities all around us this could be, perhaps ought to be, the political assessment of our times. Fairness could be an issue that plays for either end of the political spectrum: it isn’t clearly either a left- or a right-wing issue.

The polling result is terrible news for the Conservatives. They face a 25% deficit on the issue, their second largest gap overall, outdone only by the 36% margin on the question of which party wants to help ordinary people get on in life. Only 4% of voters believe that the Conservatives stand for fairness. The underlying data that Ashcroft also discloses reveals that only 9% of those who voted for the party in 2019 believe that they stand for fairness, and just 17% of those expecting to vote for them at the next election do.

But the poll result is also pretty bad news for Labour. Their lead is impressive, but it more reflects the dire result for the Conservatives than a positive view of Labour. Overall, only 29% of people believe that they stand for fairness. Even among their supporters only a small majority believe that they do: 56% of those who supported them in 2019, and 59% of those likely to vote for them next time around. Under half of every other group of voters thinks the Labour Party stands for fairness.

This is surely a political failure. On a crucial issue of public concern that is central to the problems our nation and the world are facing, neither party is demonstrating real leadership.

It does leave an opportunity: seizing and deploying the language of fairness and expressing it through policies could resonate deeply with voters over the next couple of years. Either party could use the concept as a rallying point, indeed potentially a focal point for their manifesto. Will either rise to that challenge?

They think it’s all over, Lord Ashcroft Polls, November 2022

Underlying data tables