The government have, needless to say, not had a particularly good few weeks. They have lost two cabinet minsters and have several more under clouds who the media have portrayed the Prime Minister as too weak to sack. You’d probably expect the government to be tanking in the opinion polls.

Yet YouGov’s latest poll for the Times has topline figures of CON 40%(nc), LAB 43%(+1), LDEM 6%(-2). Fieldwork was on Tuesday and Wednesday, so right in the middle of the Priti Patel row but before her resignation, and changes are from mid-October. Labour are ahead, but it’s the same sort of narrow lead that they’ve held since just after the election. As in other recent polls, Conservative support appears to be holding steady at around 40%.

It is a similar case with Theresa May’s own ratings. Her approval ratings are negative, but show no sign of collapse: 31% think she is doing well (unchanged from last month), 55% think she is doing badly (four points down from last month). 29% of people think she is a strong leader (up one point), 49% think she is weak (down three). 42% think she is competent (no change), 38% think she is incompetent (down three).

This raises the question of why support for the government and Theresa May is holding up when, on the face of it, they seem to be in such a mess. One eternal reason is that most people pay far less attention to political news than anyone reading this blog does. Cabinet rows and government weakness will make no difference to the voting intention of people who are wholly unaware of them. As an illustration, the poll also asked people if they thought Theresa May should get rid of Priti Patel (at a time, remember, when the story was all over the news and had been for four days). 17% said she should stay, 30% that she should go, 53% gave a “don’t know”. Government incompetence won’t hurt Tory support among people who are unaware of it.

An alternative possibility is that Tory voters are sticking with the Conservatives, however poor they are, because the alternative is Jeremy Corbyn. To test this YouGov asked people who said they’d vote Tory tomorrow why they were supporting them. Only 7% of Tory voters said it was because they both agreed with the government’s aims and thought they were delivering them, 48% said they agreed with the government’s aims even if they were struggling to deliver them, 22% said they thought the government were competent, even if they didn’t agree with all their aims. 19% of Tory voters, however, said they didn’t think the government were governing well and didn’t agree with their aims… but they still preferred them to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

Why is the government’s support holding up? As ever, there is never a single simple reason, but part of it is that most people don’t pay much attention to the day-to-day soap opera of politics, so individual scandals will not necessarily make a huge difference. Secondly, while even most Tory voters think the government are struggling to deliver their aims, they do mostly agree with what they are trying to do. Thirdly, there are a significant chunk of Tory voters who don’t think they are governing well and don’t agree with what they are doing… but would still vote for them because they aren’t Labour.

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1,230 Responses to “YouGov/Times – CON 40, LAB 43, LDEM 6”

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  1. Horrible reading the Sun’s awful piece on Varadkar. The very worst of the Brexit mentality, which thankfully isn’t displayed by every Brexit supporter, but is sadly all too common at present.

    Also reading the RTE story kindly linked to above, it really does suggest that for all Davis’ calls for ‘imaginative solutions’, it’s the UK that are leaden footed and struggling to come up with ideas.
    The obvious solution (and it really is obvious) would be to permit separate customs spaces within a state (the UK) via a customs border at the Irish Sea. That’s very imaginative, and very easy to initiate, given the geography. However, even here, Brexiters don’t seem to have grasped the long term need for complete regulatory alignment between north and south Ireland, as is required by the peace agreement.

    Sadly, the British press, obsessed as it is in finding the shortest possible way to summarise a problem, has fixated on the sum of money to be paid as the critical issue, rather than the somewhat more complex and hard to explain issue of the Irish border.

    It’s a relief to see that at least the RoI government has a better grasp of this complexity, and are doing their best to make sure a suitable arrangement is in place.

  2. ROI
    they have overplayed their hand . The Irish economy faces disaster if there is a no trade deal brexit, Tariffs, customs checks on goods and competition for agricultural and chemicals from non tariff countries.So what are they saying? if you dont give us an impossible guarrantee we will shoot ourselves.
    Someone needs to tell the clowns running the show over there that they dont seem to have thought this through . it is in their best interests to press for a trade deal and the closer it is to the existing deal the better for them.

  3. @ S Thomas

    Excellent post, loved every word.

    The best thing about it is if you replace the heading “ROI” with “UK”, and it was written by one ‘Angry of Kilkenny’, it would pretty much work just as well.

  4. Sorry you also have to replace “Irish” with “British”.

  5. @OLDNAT

    I don’t disagree with RoI’s assessment of the effects on them of a hard border across the island, and nor do I disagree that they have a practical veto over whether trade talks between the EU and the UK begin or not. And nor, for that matter, did I claim that I had one.

    Not sure where you get any of that from my post.

    That the end outcome remains a political choice is all I am saying. The absence of a trade deal will be the political consequence of the UK’s actions should they choose to take a course (as they seem determined to) that creates two custom zones in Ireland.

    The parties can still choose to deal. If they do not, they are making a choice. We are all free to form views on the wisdom of these and any other choices. We are not correct to deny that they are choices.

    I always felt this was the rock on which any deal would founder, but primarily because the economic cases couldn’t be reconciled.

    If there must be a hard customs border, then the having it on land is the worst option for the Republic of Ireland, and therefore for the EU if it fights Ireland’s corner. But having it at the North Channel is the worst option for Northern Ireland, given the relative volumes of its external trade, and therefore for the UK if it fights Northern Ireland’s corner.

    So even if you discard the politics (and as this is Ireland that puts us in “apart from that Mrs Lincoln how was the play?” territory) there’s for me an unsquareable economic issue.

    Unsquareable at least unless the whole UK stays in the CU, which the Government appears to have no intention of countenancing.

  6. @ALEC

    The rarely acknowledged problem with your “obvious” solution is that it is by a distance the worst option in trade terms for Northern Ireland. About 80% of its total external trade is with GB. It dwarfs what goes south.

    It is disingenuous to focus on the politics of the customs border question. It is the economic case that is the problem. A hard customs border with GB would be an economic catastrophe for NI.

    There is no good solution for Ireland as whole, other than no hard customs border at all across GB&I. And unless you believe in Davis’s magic nonsense, that means the whole UK in the CU.

  7. Or Southern Ireland seceding as well.

  8. Alec: Also reading the RTE story kindly linked to above, it really does suggest that for all Davis’ calls for ‘imaginative solutions’, it’s the UK that are leaden footed and struggling to come up with ideas.
    The obvious solution (and it really is obvious) would be to permit separate customs spaces within a state (the UK) via a customs border at the Irish Sea. That’s very imaginative, and very easy to initiate, given the geography. However, even here, Brexiters don’t seem to have grasped the long term need for complete regulatory alignment between north and south Ireland, as is required by the peace agreement.

    Once NI is permitted to be in a separate customs space [and I think it may have to be SM more than it has to be CU], the case against other parts of the UK being allowed the same becomes much weaker – ie Scotland.

    Thinking brexites in gov’t probably do understand the NI issue and also realise the potential to unpick TM’s ‘precious union’, which is why they are quite desperate at the moment.

    Had the government not done the DUP deal, I think they could probably got away with a hard sea border and sold it as essential to maintain the union, while recognising the special position of NI, but now, they are either having to retreat on this in some disarray or retreat on the whole position of the UK not being in the SM and CU with at least equal disarray.

    I agree with you alec, the common British press have missed the historically significant story by fixating on the money. DD et al have not helped by stating that NI cannot be solved without the trade deal being known. From Hireton’s rte link: To repeated British entreaties that the Irish border could only be properly solved in Phase II, Leo Varadkar had a clever riposte. Britain had unilaterally ditched membership of the customs union and single market before Phase II – ie, the trade negotiations – had started..

    The historic crunch is soon. The price of trade negotiations is a quite humiliating climbdown for gov’t in front of the brexits. The Sun is quite right to get anxious about a hard brexit being catastrophic. But then, I have long thought that brexit is good for schadenfreude ….

  9. TM’s big mistake was guaranteeing that a ‘soft’ border would remain in Ireland. This seems impossible. What is so sacrosanct about a soft border? Yes it would be very difficult to police, but it needn’t be a matter of principle.

  10. peterw: The rarely acknowledged problem with your “obvious” solution is that it is by a distance the worst option in trade terms for Northern Ireland. About 80% of its total external trade is with GB. It dwarfs what goes south.

    It is disingenuous to focus on the politics of the customs border question. It is the economic case that is the problem. A hard customs border with GB would be an economic catastrophe for NI.

    There is no good solution for Ireland as whole, other than no hard customs border at all across GB&I. And unless you believe in Davis’s magic nonsense, that means the whole UK in the CU.

    I don’t think the CU is sufficient. It avoids tariff inspections but customs inspections [small C] and regulatory convergence for the chlorinated chicken problem are still required. So there is still a hard border unless SM plus CU is adopted for the whole UK. In which case, what the heck is the point of brexit?

    I think a land border will be much more keenly felt because the overhead on a simple land journey is going to be proportionately more than the overhead on an already complex sea or air journey.

  11. Peter W

    You sure about that 80% figure?

    As I know from looking at Scottish figures, trade within the UK is notoriously hard to measure, because the stats aren’t collected, so they are based on trade estimates.

    However, even the UK’s Position Paper on NI only show 60% of sales from NI outwith the 6 counties are to GB (and give no details as to end destination).

    Fairly obviously, were NI to be within “EU rules” a lot of sales going through a GB well outside those rules would travel via RoI instead.

  12. s thomas

    “Someone needs to tell the clowns running the show over there that they dont seem to have thought this through .”

    You like writing – why not drop them a line?

  13. ROI

    here we go again. Let us all pretend that Ireland is one country except it is not. It has a north and it has a south. The south is in EU and the north will,shortly ,be not.

    If there is no trade deal between the EU and the UK there will be have to be a trade border either because the EU want it or the UK do.The only logical place for a border between two countries is.. at the border between two countries. How that is policed is a matter for both parties but it can be done to a greater or lesser extent with technology which, whilst not perfect, is constantly developing.While the NI politicians want to avoid this it is inevitable due to the intransigence/ principles of the EU as the uK wants free trade whereas the EU does not .
    The ROI will undoubtedly be damaged by brexit and at present it is flailing around shouting at the uK that :
    a. How dare we exit without taking them into account;

    b. we cant leave the single market or the CU because it will hurt the ROI;

    c. Even if we do we should take so long about it that the ROI politicians will have retired so they do not have to deal with the effects of Brexit on the ROI economy.

    At present ROI is sticking its fingers in its ears and singing “La La” instead of being the main cheerleader for the UK in the EU.

  14. ROI(2)

    Of course we may be reading this all wrong. it may be that this new found Irish aggression is born of a fear that behind the scenes the UK and the EU have been talking about money and the trade talks and that the poor little ROI is feeling out in the cold and thinking the EU is about to betray it.It would be well justified in that fear.

  15. Whatever deal is agreed one thing is essential and inviolable: there can be no tariff border in Ireland.

    That is a big constraint and one the Irish will insist on.

  16. Prof Howard

    Since England doesn’t have a land border with rEU, that probably explains why their politicians didn’t treat the problems it creates seriously (they seemed much exercised by a land border with an indy Scotland!)

    In the current impasse, however, the pressing need seems to be to give the DUP some face-saving exercise to allow them to accept a tariff border in the North Channel (even though that would be to some economic detriment to Scotland).

    I can’t think what such a get-out would look like though.

  17. Hasn’t Dublin bid for both EU agencies that are leaving London? I wonder if that plays a part in their stance

  18. @oldnat

    I’m always very sceptical of trade figures within the UK. xx% of trade from smaller nation goes to bigger nation…

    …which doesn’t begin to measure if that’s due to mismanagement from the UK government.

    What if the smaller nation doubles its trade output by reallocation of goods as non-UK? Then it’s 40% to rUK (of the original number) and 60% elsewhere.

    All very sketchy, to the point of spurious imo.

  19. LASZLO
    “Labour’s key policies are based on the: maintaining the system, while correcting it with government interventions. It is fair enough, but the government interventions would be driven by consumption and not production (what these policies contain about production has absolutely no supporting evidence in research – actually just the opposite).”
    As, for example, a state funded investment bank for industrial investment, a major migrant fund for areas of economic development based on high levels of migrant influx, 200,000 houses per annum ? I really don’t get your negative reading of McDonnell’s manifesto commitment, or of their basis in longer-term policy.

  20. @OLDNAT

    I quoted a source a few weeks ago that I thought suggested about 80%, mainly as no one else seemed at that point to have suggested any figures at all, and I think they are significant.

    As I thought that was my source it appears to be my recollection that may be suspect. It looks like I’ve misremembered what is in reality an 80:20 split as between the suggested customs borders, and excluding trade with rEU and outwith EU. My bad if so. and I’m happy to take the UK position paper as definitive.

    Also, agreed, not going to be easy to measure in the first place when seeking to differentiate between four zones within a customs union.

    But my point, that a North Channel customs border is not “obvious” as it is the worst option on current trade figures for NI, is still supported. It’s still something like a 4:1 margin.

    Indeed there is a symmetry in some ways to the two negotiating positions in consequence.

    EU supports an RoI opposition to the worst customs border economically from an RoI perspective. UK supports a NI opposition to the worst customs border economically from a NI perspective.

    In the grand scheme of things I think both sides (EU/UK) as a whole might be advantaged economically by a trade deal although (again at least based on trade numbers alone) it’s a much bigger issue for the UK. So it might be a matter of which blinks first and takes an economic hit to a peripheral region for a perceived greater objective to their territory as a whole.

    That’s where I’d disagree that the idea that the Taoiseach has overplayed his hand. He has, if we want to pursue that analogy, “gone all in” by risking what appears to be the worst possible short term economic outcome for RoI (a hard border with the North and no trade deal at all). But he’s done so in the belief that the UK will be the one to blink, and I think they still might be.

    It’s at that point where the DUP role may become significant politically. Normally, I’d bank on the UK Government selling a peripheral region down the river without demur if the interests of London and the South East demanded it. This time, the DUP (and the Conservatives’ own fundamentalist Unionist tendency) might make it harder than it would be if the matter was selling out Yorkshire or Cornwall.

  21. peterw: That’s where I’d disagree that the idea that the Taoiseach has overplayed his hand. He has, if we want to pursue that analogy, “gone all in” by risking what appears to be the worst possible short term economic outcome for RoI (a hard border with the North and no trade deal at all). But he’s done so in the belief that the UK will be the one to blink, and I think they still might be.

    It’s at that point where the DUP role may become significant politically. Normally, I’d bank on the UK Government selling a peripheral region down the river without demur if the interests of London and the South East demanded it. This time, the DUP (and the Conservatives’ own fundamentalist Unionist tendency) might make it harder than it would be if the matter was selling out Yorkshire or Cornwall.

    The biggest thing which can go wrong for Varadkar is if the EU goes a bit soft on the basic premise of ‘no hard border within Ireland, any border must be elsewhere’ because of those German carmakers who are even now hammering on Merkel’s door.

    Don’t forget internal pressures within NI and the UK. If the DUP are cast as the reason for the EU not going into a trade negotiation, they will be even more isolated and detested within the UK. And in post brexit NI, with no trade deal, the prospect of reunification will appear more and more attractive. It matters not whether the UK gov’t sells the DUP down the river, without the UK being in the SM and the SM, the DUP have lost their best hopes of preventing reunification.

    The second biggest thing which can go wrong of course, is reunification with a substantial minority of angry Unionists in the North …

  22. ROI/NI

    If anyone thinks that this issue will come down to economics they really haven’t been paying attention for the last four centuries!

    Anyone from the GB discussing the border issue in the Island of Ireland really needs to gain an understanding of the visceral nature of politics there. My wife is a Northern Irish (lapsed) Catholic, she is 49 years of age and grew up through the troubles, she is highly intelligent, Oxford Educated, remarkably balanced about political matters prepared to hear all sides except when it comes to Ireland, then all of her responses are entirely emotional and the reaction is swift and uncompromising, and she is not a SF supporter.
    The problem with the GB attitude to Ireland today is the same as its always been (as epitomised by the writings of S Thomas here) we know what’s best for you so we should be in charge of you!

  23. What this debate seems to be missing on its current outing is the Good Friday agreement specifically states that any relationship change needs to be approved by a majority, and since NI voted remain this is impossible to square.

    Therefore Brexit is impossible to implement in the way the Tories want it to be without HMG unilaterally tearing up the agreement.

  24. peterw,
    ” A hard customs border with GB would be an economic catastrophe for NI.”

    Hang on a minute, why?
    What we are really talking about is freedom to travel without formal checks and inspections. Thats the objection. I dont see the Uk creating tax barriers between the Uk and N. Ireland for internal goods, just delays, inspections and paperwork. The argument is really about where the inspections happen, between north and south or north and britain. The more logical place for physical inspections is at the sea, which create a natural barrier anyway where already paperwork has to be checked and there are delays in loading, etc, etc. With planning, delays ought not to be much greater.

    Whereas, at the land barrier right now, people just walk or drive across with no delays, and this is what it is sought to maintain.

    S Thomas,
    ” The Irish economy faces disaster if there is a no trade deal ”

    No, it doesnt. Most of its trade is with the EU, and I can see an emergency program expanding direct communications for ireland to the continent. (which of course, long term, will further reduce the Uk economy). Long term, this is likely to be benefitting Ireland.

    Meanwhile, direct trade with the Uk will continue albeit reduced and with complications. This will create further ill will between the irish in general and Westminster. It will no doubt assist the republican cause in the north.

    The wider problem for westminster is that if N. ireland gets effectively to stay in the EU, other places will to as well.

  25. S Thomas,
    “.While the NI politicians want to avoid this it is inevitable due to the intransigence/ principles of the EU as the uK wants free trade whereas the EU does not .”

    er…Sorry, but do you understand what the EU is and why it was created? Its a trade organisation. You get that freedom of trade by joining, not by leaving. Leavers seem to have got this principle backwards somehow.

    technicolouroctober,
    ” because of those German carmakers who are even now hammering on Merkel’s door.”

    I really dont see that they are. Apparently they were recently hammering on May’s door, perhaps because they think it is she who needs to budge. Imagine a long term scenario where car companies have cut production in the UK which is therefore reliant on imported vehicles. Sure, theres an equal worldwide import tariff, but how would that disadvantage German manufacturers? British purchasers would be worse off, but would German profits be hit?

  26. danny: technicolouroctober, ” because of those German carmakers who are even now hammering on Merkel’s door.”

    I really dont see that they are.

    When I use that phase, I am always being facetious. Sorry!

  27. WB

    “The problem with the GB attitude to Ireland today is the same as its always been (as epitomised by the writings of S Thomas here) we know what’s best for you so we should be in charge of you! ”

    S Thomas seems to be one of those people who “know” what is best for everybody and everything.

    Thankfully it’s a a rare gift.

  28. theexterminatingdalek: What this debate seems to be missing on its current outing is the Good Friday agreement specifically states that any relationship change needs to be approved by a majority, and since NI voted remain this is impossible to square.

    Therefore Brexit is impossible to implement in the way the Tories want it to be without HMG unilaterally tearing up the agreement.

    You’ve got me thinking. Maybe the GFA is fast approaching its sell by date? To Nationalists, it was only acceptable as a temporary way of living together until Ireland is reunited. To Unionists it is acceptable as a permanent way of living together because it is largely silent about what happens if Ireland is reunited.

    To me it looks as I think I said, like SF have wargamed brexit, possibly starting before the referendum and are content to let the GFA gather cobwebs while they await eventual reunification. If the current stalemate continues, the UK gov’t are going to do nothing in NI until brexit has played out. After that they may pay attention and try to revitalise the government of NI with some initiatives, but they will easily be wrong footed into ‘British Interference’, which will just feed into demands for a border poll.

  29. Can anyone imagine what the reaction of the meedjah would be if it was a LABOUR Govt playing fast and loose with the United Kingdom, as this present shower are?
    (I often ask this question when the latest grotesque ‘initiative’ is presented for our edification by the immensely able members of HMG).

  30. @peteb

    “TM’s big mistake was guaranteeing that a ‘soft’ border would remain in Ireland. This seems impossible. What is so sacrosanct about a soft border? Yes it would be very difficult to police, but it needn’t be a matter of principle.”

    We’ll, it was a Vote Leave commitment. For example,.Theresa Villiers , prominent Leave supporter and Secretary of State for N Ireland at the time said:

    “I think that the land border we share with Ireland can be as free-flowing after a Brexit vote as it is today.”

    So May is only following the will of the people as evidenced in the referendum vote.

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