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8 October 2021

Exclusive polling: “Pork barrel” politics may not win the Conservatives votes

The government’s Towns Fund has been accused of favouring marginal seats – but the promise of investment does not necessarily translate into support.

By Samir Jeraj

Earlier this year, the government was accused of “pork barrel” politics when money from the first round of the £3.6bn Towns Fund disproportionately went to marginal seats. Of the 45 areas to get the funding, 39 were represented by Conservative MPs, and 12 of those seats had majorities of 10 per cent or lower.

However, according to exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, the government may find the impact at the ballot box disappointing. A plurality, just over a third of people (36 per cent), said they “neither agree nor disagree” that “having a Conservative MP would increase your constituency’s access to central government funding”.

Some 32 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement, just under a fifth of people (17 per cent) disagreed with the statement and 14 per cent said they did not know.

Professor Chris Hanretty, a professor of politics at Royal Holloway, said politicians often act as though it was “obvious” that people react to promises of more money with the simple formula of “money in, votes out”.

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But, he explained, “once you remove the people who don’t know, who don’t believe you, or who don’t care, you’re left with very few people who have open minds and are willing to be persuaded.”

In the West Midlands, where Conservative metro Mayor Andy Street was re-elected this year, 42 per cent of people agreed that having a Tory MP would improve their chances of getting local funding. Street’s campaign had controversially highlighted his ability to secure money from central government, with one local MP being quoted on a leaflet as saying “there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of a Labour mayor getting a meeting with the Prime Minister in their first 100 days in office”.

Yet elsewhere, the voters did not appear swayed. In the north-east, where 39 per cent of people thought their local area would get more money, Labour’s North of Tyne Mayor is Jamie Driscoll.

In Batley and Spen, West Yorkshire, where Labour won a tight by-election against the Conservatives in July, Boris Johnson had promised investment through “the Towns Fund, the levelling-up fund or the many other funds that we have available” when he visited.

However, the polling does show that Conservative voters were most likely to think it would make a difference, with 37 per cent saying a Tory MP would be a route to more money for their communities, possibly pointing towards a way for the party to hold on to voters in the long term.

By contrast, 41 per cent of Conservative voters said they neither agreed nor disagreed, 34 per cent of Labour voters also felt it did not make a difference one way or the other, with 35 per cent saying it would mean greater funding.

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