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This week’s round of general election focus groups took us to three more Leave-voting, Labour-held seats of the kind the Tories will need to build a majority, this time in Wales: Alyn and Deeside, Wrexham, and Newport West.

Unleashed

What campaign news had caught people’s attention in the last few days? “I saw a thing on Twitter with Michael Gove in his constituency. He was surrounded by a load of 60 or 70 year-old white pensioners, and it said ‘unleash our potential’. I thought, what kind of message is that?” “Free school meals. I think that was from Labour;” “The Conservatives want to bring back foxhunting;” “Corbyn wants to nationalise the railways;” “Various ones have jumped on the climate change agenda, but I don’t know who’s said what. To be honest I’ve heard more from Greta Thunberg on that;” “I’ve seen clips on Facebook of Labour people knocking on doors and getting a mouthful;” “The police – the Conservatives took 20,000 away but now they want to put them back;” “Didn’t Corbyn say something about putting the minimum wage up to £10 an hour?” “I think Labour said they were not going to restrict immigrants coming in. They’re going to continue with free movement, whereas the Conservatives are saying it’s not fair on people from outside the EU;” “There was something about a four-day working week. I reckon it would just mean doing four 12-hour shifts;” “It’s insulting people’s intelligence. I’m going to be working 7.30 till four, four days a week with three days off, for the same wage? It’s bollocks, isn’t it?”

Three years of Greggs

Labour’s promise of free broadband for all had cut through to an unusual degree, albeit to what might charitably be called a mixed response. Many of these previous Labour voters thought it sounded like an odd sort of priority: “I might nationalise certain essential things. But I’m not desperately sure I would nationalise wi-fi;” “There are people sleeping in cold homes, kids without warm clothes, families on the breadline. I just don’t think this is top of the list;” “I work six days a week to provide my family with the necessities to live with. Broadband is a luxury, not a necessity. You have to work for it, you don’t get given it. If you don’t want to graft or pay your dues, that’s cool, but don’t expect to get it for free.”

They also tended to see it as a transparent bribe, and not a particularly believable one: “It’s trying to go after first-time voters, because for teenagers, wi-fi is everything. So for people who haven’t looked into it and haven’t paid taxes, if they’re going to have something like that for free it’s a vote winner;” “The government is paying, so we are;” “It would be like two megabytes a second, then you have to upgrade;” “Nothing is going to be free. Is it unlimited? It will be something like, the broadband is free, but the router is five thousand pounds. They’re going to make the money back somehow;” “Next they’re going to promise you three years of Greggs or something.”

Some also worried about what state-run broadband would actually be like: “Slow. Unreliable;” “They’d be able to listen down every Alexa in every house;” “It screams ‘state-owned internet’ to me. It’s not going to be North Korea, but it does scream ‘control’; “It would be like Big Brother, with all your personal details and social media profiles and everything else. Would you want that in a government-owned business?”

You just want to iron him, don’t you?

Many of our participants had a favourable view of Boris Johnson, sometimes to their own evident surprise: “My family has always been Labour but I’ve kind of got respect for the man;” “I’m not normally a politically-minded person but if I see him on TV, you’ve got to like him. It’s hard not to. He’s got this thing about him that he’s going to do what he says he’ll do;” ‘He looks a bit of a goofball, but he has made an effort. He’s the only one so far who’s bothered;” “Credit to him for getting into that position and saying this is what the people wanted, this is my sole goal, to fight for what the majority voted for. And he’s been met with nothing but opposition all the way;” “He’s not promising nonsense like Corbyn, like a four-day week and free internet;” “He’s like Trump – gung-ho, but he’s got the balls to act.”

(Some thought there was room for improvement: “The message is right, but I can’t see him there with all the leaders of the world. You just want to iron him, don’t you?” “He came out of his front door a while ago looking all neat and tidy, but his shirt was hanging out. He’s a naughty schoolboy, he needs detention and sorting out.”)

There was also widespread discontentment with Jeremy Corbyn, and Labour under his leadership: “I quite liked him but I’m not sure how he would be as a leader. I’m not sure how much faith I would have in him there running our country;” “He’s not very good at managing the people around him. I’ve got more disillusioned with the Labour Party, the splits, the antisemitism, and I’m someone who has always voted Labour. And I look at the mess and how extreme they’ve become;” “I liked him to begin with, but I think he’d mess it up;” “There’s been a lot of bad publicity about him and the Islamics;” “Not standing for the national anthem, the Hezbollah photo, it’s all those things.”

Down the pan

For many, these unaccustomed views of the relative merits of the two main party leaders gave rise to an equally unfamiliar quandary over how to vote – as did the impression that Labour had “been rather wet on the whole Brexit thing. The idea that we could have another referendum and put it off even further;” “It’s like going to slimming club and getting on the scales and saying ‘I don’t like that, I’m going to get off and not get on again until it says the right number’;” “I don’t honestly know what their position is. He’s said he’ll make a statement after the election, but I want him to say now;” “They want to remain, from what I’ve seen on Piers Morgan, He’s been grilling a load of them, and I think, if I want to leave, why would I vote for you?”

The clear Conservative position combined with the contrast in leadership was enough for some Labour leavers to switch, even if for one election only: “Get Brexit done, because Brexit will be forever, but a government is just going to run its term and then we can vote again;” “When I found out the other day that our MP has stood in the way of Brexit on every single vote, despite the fact that the majority of people round here voted Leave, that really annoyed me. So potentially I will vote Conservative. It would be a one-off, to get Brexit done;” “I’m willing to give them another four years to see if we get it done and come out any better. It seems a better prospect than handing over to Labour and watching everything go down the pan.”

For others, non-Brexit factors carried the day: “I think Labour are more committed to the longevity of the NHS. Under the Conservatives, I think we’ve seen the best of it and it will ultimately become privatised. There are some really quite frightening stories about the US wanting to come in and control things like drugs;” “You’ve got to stick to your guns and what you believe in.” Your Brexit guns, or your Labour guns? “To me, you’ve got to stick with Labour because it’s the right way;” “Why settle for second best? I don’t like the Conservatives;” “I don’t think they care, whereas Labour, for all its faults, does;” “I don’t think I could do it. You’d have to stick needles in my eyes, I think.”

But for some, the dilemma over whether to break ancestral tradition to vote Tory and get Brexit done was painfully acute: “It’s a really tricky one. In previous elections it’s been a simple cross in the box, now it’s so overwhelming, I feel quite sick;” “I’ve toiled with my own personal me about how I feel about everything, and it’s something I haven’t wanted to confront yet.”

Disturbingly for the Conservatives, a few of these people had evidently started to resolve their crisis with the thought that Brexit might not happen even with a Tory majority – or that it might yet happen under Labour – thereby removing their predicament: “You do wonder if it’s ever going to happen;” “It’s not guaranteed he’s going to do it. How long has it been going on for now? He can say what he wants to get in power and then say his MPs won’t let him do it;” “If he was going to get Brexit done he would have done it by 31st October;” “I hope it would still happen under Labour. He’s a leaver, and it’s what the country wants;” “I want to get Labour in, and then everything else will hopefully fall into place.”

Bolshie

For Leave supporters looking for a way out of voting Tory, are the Brexit Party not the obvious answer? “I don’t know enough about them.” Nigel Farage’s new party. “Oh, no chance then. He’s a lot more extremist than what I’d be interested in voting for. A bit too outrageous;” “He comes across as bolshie on the telly;” “They’re not a real party. I just think of them as a gang of right-wing thugs.” Being a single-issue party was off-putting for some: “It’s just about Brexit. Can they deliver on anything else that concerns us?” “Nobody’s heard of any other policies they’re coming out with.” The decision not to contest Conservative-held seats had also coloured views: “He said he would fight them all, then a couple of days later he said ‘no, we’ll help the Tories and fight Labour’.”

Has anyone thought about the Lib Dems? “I don’t think they want to leave, do they?” Not so as you’d notice, no. “Why are they not listening to the people? The people want to come out;” “When they say ‘we want to stay in and that’s our manifesto’, you stop listening.”

Transfixed

Surely some of these points had been illuminated by the big political event of the week, eagerly anticipated by a waiting nation – Tuesday’s head-to-head ITV Leaders’ Debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn? Perhaps two members out of our four Wednesday night groups had tuned in. What had kept the others away? “There was an important football match. Wales v. Hungary.” Of course. Congratulations, by the way. What did the viewers think? “The woman was more interested in getting her point across;” “To be honest, I got fed up listening;” “I turned it off. I saw them on the stage and thought, ‘oh, for God’s sake.’ They’ve been arguing about Brexit for three years now and I’m fed up with it.”

And finally

If Jeremy Corbyn were a biscuit, what kind of biscuit would he be? “What sort of question is that?” An important one, I promise. “A Nice biscuit. Soggy and unreliable.” “Hardtack.” How about Jo Swinson? “A really annoying one with bits of coconut in it.” Nigel Farage? “A Garibaldi. Some people love them, but a lot of people don’t.”

And Boris? “A Chocolate Hobnob. There’s a bit of resilience to him and a slightly sweet side;” “He’s a bit of a jammy dodger;” “A party ring, pink with yellow stripes. Looks really flash but leaves a nasty taste;” “A Rich Tea. One dunk and he’s gone. Like most men.”

16 comments for: Lord Ashcroft: My latest focus groups from three Leave-voting, Labour-held Tory targets in Wales

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