Boris Johnson’s support has collapsed in Conservative heartlands in the southeast and east of England, according to a poll that suggests the party could lose 17 seats.
Eleni Courea, Steven Swinford www.thetimes.co.uk
The Tories’ rating is down by eight points from the 2019 general election levels in so-called blue wall areas, a YouGov survey for The Times has found.
The findings are based on 53 Tory-held seats that voted to stay in the European Union in the 2016 referendum and had a higher than average share of university degree holders.
They have similar voting profiles to Chesham & Amersham, where the Conservatives suffered a surprise by-election defeat to the Liberal Democrats last month. The electorate rejected the Conservatives for the first time, by 8,000 votes.
The polling suggested that the Conservatives would lose 12 seats if an election took place now.
They would lose constituencies that have returned Tory MPs since their inception, such as Chingford & Woodford Green, which is represented by the former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith; Chipping Barnet, held by the former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, and Wycombe, held by the former Brexit minister Steve Baker.
Nine of the 12 seats would go to Labour, which was up by four points in the blue wall areas surveyed, and three to the Liberal Democrats.
A further five seats were on a knife edge, including Esher & Walton, held by Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary.
Patrick English, a research manager for YouGov, said: “The results of the blue wall poll highlight just how difficult a job Boris Johnson has in balancing his new voter coalition.
“The exact sorts of policies and priorities on issues such as Brexit and investment which are winning him support in the north and Midlands are quite clearly costing him and his party in the south and east.
“This divergence and the political realignment which follows has only been growing stronger in recent years, as the Conservative’s contrasting fortunes in the Hartlepool and Chesham & Amersham by-elections this year show.”
In May the Tories took Hartlepool, which had not returned a Conservative MP since 1959, from Labour.
English added: “Unless the prime minister can find some way to appeal to both houses, the closer we move to the next general election the larger the cracks in the foundation of Conservative support will grow.”
While Johnson enjoys a national ten-point lead on the question of who would make the best prime minister, in the blue wall areas surveyed he was barely ahead of Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader.
Just 35 per cent of blue wall voters said they thought Johnson was the best person for the job, while 31 per cent backed Starmer. Only two thirds of blue wall voters who backed the Tories in 2019 said they believed that Johnson would make the best prime minister now.
Support for the Conservatives in those areas was at 44 per cent, down from 52 per cent in 2019.
Labour’s support was 24 per cent, up from 20 per cent. The Liberal Democrats dropped from 24 per cent to 18 per cent. Support for the Green Party rose by seven points during that period from 2 per cent to 9 per cent.
A majority of blue wall voters — 54 per cent — said they thought the government was not listening to their concerns, compared with 27 per cent who thought it was.
Some 47 per cent said they thought the government was taking the country in the right direction, compared with 32 per cent who thought it was going in the wrong one.
The blue wall voters surveyed were sceptical about Brexit, with 52 per cent saying the UK had been wrong to leave the EU compared with 40 per cent who thought it was the right decision.
They expressed particular concern about plans to build more housing in their areas, which is thought to have been a key reason behind the Tories’ defeat in Chesham & Amersham.
Forty-three per cent of those surveyed said they would support new housing in their local area, compared with 52 per cent who were opposed. By comparison, 37 per cent of people nationally are opposed to more housing being built in their area.
The construction of HS2 also emerged as a significant issue, with 46 per cent of blue wall voters saying they were opposed to it compared with 24 per cent who supported it.