Tories say protecting economy is now more vital than curbing pandemic

Protecting the economy is now more vital than curbing the pandemic, say nearly half of Tory voters

  • A poll showed a dramatic change in public opinion to the pandemic response  
  • In April, 15% of Tories said PM should put the economy first – now risen to 40%
  • Results mirror fears among rebel Tory MPs who believe that the Prime Minister has been ‘captured’ by his scientific and medical advisers

Pressure on Boris Johnson to do more to stop Covid laying waste to jobs and businesses grew last night after a poll showed a dramatic change in public opinion.

Protecting the economy is seen as increasingly vital by voters compared to the Government’s over-riding focus on curbing the pandemic. 

And among Johnson’s Tory supporters the switch in attitudes is even more stark.

Support among Conservatives for putting the economy first is now level pegging with support for putting health concerns first.

In April, when coronavirus first hit the UK, a total of 74 per cent said the Government should concentrate on limiting its spread. That figure has now fallen to 53 per cent.

A poll showed a dramatic change in public opinion to the pandemic response with 40 per cent of Tory voters saying Boris Johnson should put the economy first – up from 15 per cent in April

Conversely, in April only 12 per cent said the Prime Minister should put the economy first. That figure has now risen to 28 per cent.

The changing public mood is even more significant in Mr Johnson’s Tory heartlands. 

Among Conservative supporters, 75 per cent said Mr Johnson should focus on stopping the virus spreading in April.

That has fallen by nearly half to 42 per cent – and has nearly been overtaken by the 40 per cent who now say he should put the economy first.

Back in April, only 15 per cent of Conservatives saw safeguarding the economy as a more pressing concern than curbing the virus, according to a poll for Kekst CNC consultants.

If the trend continues, it appears to be only a matter of time before economic worries among the Tory faithful outweighs concern over the health implications of the pandemic.

And opinion is heading in a similar direction among all voters. 

The results mirror fears among rebel Tory MPs who believe that the Prime Minister has been ‘captured’ by his scientific and medical advisers.

The MPs argue that the unfolding economic catastrophe could cause greater damage to the nation’s health and prosperity than the virus itself.

The poll provides further evidence that Mr Johnson’s Covid policy is turning the tide of public opinion against him personally.

The number of people who say he has handled the pandemic badly has risen from 45 per cent in June to 54. Only 30 per cent say he has handled it well.

And an overwhelming 74 per cent say the Government is ‘making up its anti-Covid policy as it goes along,’ a 7 per cent rise since July.

James Johnson, of JL Partners, who advise Kekst CNC, said: ‘This poll makes sorry reading for the Government.

‘As Britain teeters on the edge of more coronavirus restrictions, the public mood is very different from the start of the pandemic.’

He added: ‘Although the public still prioritise limiting the spread of the disease over protecting the economy, this gap has narrowed significantly – and what was once a niche view on putting the economy first is becoming more mainstream, especially amongst Conservative voters.’

Kekst CNC interviewed 1,028 UK adults online between Sept 16 and 22.

Growth weaker than expected

The economy has been growing at less than half the rate expected, figures show.

In a dramatic slowing down of the recovery, the growth of 2.1 per cent in August was far below the 4.6 per cent that economists had hoped for.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August saw government-funded 50% off discounts enticing diners to pubs and restaurants in droves. Pictured: Chancellor Rishi Sunak

The Office for National Statistics figures came despite the success of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. 

In August, the government-funded discounts on meals enticed diners to pubs and restaurants in droves.

August was still the fourth month of growth in a row, but it was much weaker than the 9.1 per cent boost in June and the 6.4 per cent rise in July. 

It means the UK economy is still 9.2 per cent smaller than it was in February before the pandemic hit.

The food and drink sector shot up by 69.7 per cent in August. The accommodation sector grew by 76 per cent as travel restrictions caused a boom in ‘staycations’.

But there are now fears over what the next few months will hold, as businesses prepare to make lay off huge numbers of staff. Chancellor Rishi Sunak acknowledged that it may be a ‘difficult winter’ for many.

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