Rishi Sunak is facing a major test of his leadership later today, in what is seen to be the first event of this year’s election campaign.
Kicking off at 8pm, all eyes will be on the Prime Minister as he answers questions from the public at a People’s Forum hosted by GB News. The event will take place in the north east of England, which is set to be one of the most important election battlegrounds this year. The audience members and their questions will be selected by polling company Savanta, so even GB News doesn’t know whats coming. Savanta have selected an audience made up of undecided and swing voters – meaning the PM should be braced for questions on a wide variety of topics.
As the Tory party battles devastating approval ratings, in most polls sitting more than 20 points behind the Labour Party, this evening’s event is a key opportunity for Sunak to persuade voters that the Tories time in office is not yet over. While nobody except Savanta knows what is coming this evening, there are a few key issues that are at the forefront of voters minds as we head into election season.
According to polling conducted by YouGov in December 2023, migration is the second most important issue to voters, with 41 per cent of people saying it is what they care about the most – behind the economy at 54 per cent.
With the Government’s Rwanda Bill is still being debated in the House of Lords, and legal experts divided on whether or not it will be caught up by legal challenges when the UK actually attempts to send migrants to Kigali, it is almost guaranteed that Sunak will face some tough questions from voters in tonight’s audience, especially given stopping the boats has been a central pillar of Sunak’s premiership.
Labour has dubbed the Government’s plan a gimmick, promising to reverse it if they are elected and instead looking to crack down on the criminal smuggling gangs helping people to cross the channel. All eyes will be on the PM this evening to see if he can persuade the audience that his plan makes more sense.
THE COST OF LIVING CRISIS
With disposable incomes squeezed across the UK after years of rampant inflation, Sunak is very likely to face questions from concerned voters over what the PM will do to help people who are feeling increasingly pinched by rising costs and salaries that aren’t keeping up.
The PM is likely to stress that inflation has halved under his watch as PM – the only of his five pledges that he has met so far. But the latest monthly figures for November show that there was very little economic growth in 2023.
According to polling conducted by YouGov in December 2023, migration is the second most important issue to voters,
With taxation at its highest level since the period after World War Two, the PM is likely to echo previous promises to cut taxes further at the Spring budget.
An issue that comes hand in hand with the spiralling cost of living, Sunak may find himself pressed on exactly how far he’s willing to go to ease the tax burden on voters this evening.
With the NHS waiting list at more than 7.5 million, the Prime Minister is likely to face questions from conerned voters with loved ones waiting for treatment. The health service has been rocked by repeated walkouts throughout Sunak’s year in office, something which has only worsened the huge waiting lists seen after the Covid pandemic.
But new data published by the NHS earlier this year showed that the backlog fell for a second month in a row in January by more than 95,000 – down to 7.6 million in November from 7.7 million in October – something Sunak is likely to stress to his audience this evening if he takes questions on the topic.
The Labour Party has been keen to stress its history as the party on the side of the NHS, so the PM will be doing his best to persuade voters that the Tories can be trusted with Britain’s health service.
While climate change isn’t a top priority for many voters, Rishi Sunak will be keen to capitalise on Labour’s recent U-turn on their pledge to put £28billion into green investment. Last week, Sir Keir Starmer announced that the plan has been slashed from £28billion towards green investment in one year, to a total of £23.7billion over five years.
The Labour Party is arguing that the changes are necessary as a result of the Conservative Party “crashing the economy and Jeremy Hunt’s plans to ‘max out’ the country’s credit card”. But for the Tories, last week’s announcement – and the months of speculation that came before it – was the perfect opportunity to draw attention to what they have dubbed “complete chaos” under Labour.
Last year, Rishi Sunak watered down the Government’s plan to reach Net Zero as part of what the party argued was a common sense approach to the climate. If pressed on the topic, we’re likely to see the PM defend his decision to slash green policies last year and attack Labour’s so-called “flip flopping” on the issue.
Amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the UK’s participation in joint strikes with the US on Houthi rebels in Yemen, there is growing concern about the UK’s ability to defend itself. Rishi Sunak may face questions from voters on whether or not the UK is spending enough money to be able to defend itself if there is further escalation of mounting global instability.
Earlier this year, the head of the British army warned that it is too small to fight an all-out war without conscription, while the US Navy Secretary Carlos del Tory urged the UK to consider more investment in its armed forces amid mounting global instability.
At last year’s Kings Speech, the PM committed to an £11.3billion boost to defence spending in the UK, recognising the UK now sits in a “more dangerous world” – something Sunak is likely to point to if fielding questions on the topic today.