LONDON, May 21, (Agencies): British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives have lost some of their substantial lead over the opposition Labour Party, opinion polls showed Sunday after both sides published their manifestos for the June 8 election. The governing centre-right party is still on course for a comfortable victory, but no longer enjoys the 20-point lead that provoked talk of a landslide at the start of the campaign.
Newspaper commentators warned of a backlash against May’s proposed plan to address the rising cost of social care for the elderly, which could see higher bills for many people. “Tory wobble as cuts for elderly slash May’s lead,” headlined the Sunday Times, as a YouGov poll found the party’s lead halved in a week. The online survey put the Tories down five points at 44 percent and Labour up four points at 35 points, the closest gap since last year.
YouGov found 40 percent of voters opposed the social care plan, and 35 percent supported it. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “necessary” to meet the challenges of an ageing population. “I think it is a mark of Theresa May’s bravery and candour with electorate that she is doing this,” he told ITV television. May called the snap election in April, saying she wanted a mandate to go into the negotiations on taking Britain out of the European Union.
Labour had always insisted the opinion polls would narrow as the election nears. Its leader Jeremy Corbyn claims his plans to nationalise the railways, raise taxes and invest in public services are widely popular. An ORB/Sunday Telegraph survey put the Conservatives on 46 percent, unchanged from last week, and Labour up two points on 34 percent. An Opinium/Observer poll, taken after Labour’s manifesto launch but before the Tories’, put May’s party down one point in a week at 46 percent, and Labour up one point at 33 percent. A Survation/Mail on Sunday poll put the Conservatives at 46 percent and Labour at 34 percent.
It is based on new methodology, so cannot be compared to previous results. Labour has also benefited from the decline of smaller parties during the campaign, experts say. The pro-European Liberal Democrats have fallen from around 11 percent to around eight percent. The UK Independence Party (UKIP), a once potent force which has struggled to stay relevant since last year’s referendum vote for Brexit, is languishing at between three and seven percent. In related news, May’s Conservative Party said on Sunday it would not ditch proposals to reduce support for elderly voters, as opinion polls showing their lead ahead of the June 8 national election falling. May has faced criticism from political rivals and pressure groups over her planned social care reforms, which include a making elderly homeowners — a core voter group for the Conservatives — pay more towards their old-age care.
The criticism, including within the Sunday editions of usually friendly right-leaning newspapers, prompted senior ministers to defend the reform package in a series of television interviews. “This is necessary … we have to do something about the huge costs of social care,” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told ITV’s Peston on Sunday show.
The growing cost of caring for the elderly as the population ages is a problem that has bedevilled successive governments, with the current system widely seen as inadequate. “I do understand people’s reservations and the questions that some people are asking about the detail of all this, but the broad thrust is right,” Johnson said. Asked in a separate interview on the BBC Damian Green, pensions minister and a close May ally was asked whether the government would reconsider the planned changes. He said: “No”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose manifesto launch set out plans for higher state investment and nationalisation of some services, said the Conservatives were betraying Britain’s elderly. “Theresa May and the Conservatives won’t stand up for pensioners, their only concern is their billionaire friends,” he said. The Conservatives have framed their election campaign as a personality battle between May and Corbyn by asking voters who they trust more to get a good Brexit deal, banking on May’s image as a tough negotiator to sway wavering voters. Their campaign portrays Corbyn as an out-of-touch left-winger