Paul Scully joins exodus of Tory MPs quitting at the next election

4 March 2024, 11:57 | Updated: 4 March 2024, 11:59

Paul Scully has announced that he will not contest his seat at the next election
Paul Scully has announced that he will not contest his seat at the next election. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Former minister Paul Scully has announced that he will not contest his seat at the next election, adding his name to an exodus that has seen more than 60 Tory MPs saying they will step down - the highest total since 1997.

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He told the Evening Standard: “I don't think they had Londoners' best interests [in mind] when they were working out the job description that they were trying to select for.”

“We've lost focus as a party. The Budget clearly is a moment to try and regain that focus, but if we don't then there's a real risk that we just repeat the mistakes of 1997 and start chasing an ideology rather than listening to what people actually want,” he added.

His announcement comes days after he was criticised for saying parts of London with large Muslim populations had become 'no-go areas'. 

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The Conservatives have hit their lowest polling score on record after a torrid start to the year for Rishi Sunak.

A poll published by Ipsos UK on Monday suggested just 20% of the public would vote for the Tories at the next election, down seven points since January and the lowest score recorded by the party since Ipsos started its regular polling in 1978.

The figure is even lower than the 23% recorded in December 2022, shortly after Mr Sunak replaced Liz Truss as Prime Minister, and puts the Conservatives 27 points behind Labour, who are on 47%.

Ipsos's previous lowest score for the Conservatives was 22%, recorded by John Major in December 1994 and May 1995, only a few years before Tony Blair's landslide win in 1997.

The slump in Conservative support follows a series of bad headlines for Mr Sunak at the start of 2024, with confirmation that the UK had entered a recession at the end of last year, two large by-election defeats in Wellingborough and Kingswood, and an Islamophobia row over comments by now-suspended Tory MP Lee Anderson.

Another poll published by YouGov on Friday also had the Conservatives on 20% and gave Labour a lead of 26 points, further compounding the Prime Minister's woes.

Labour, meanwhile, appeared to be weathering the storm caused by the Rochdale by-election, when it was forced to withdraw support for its candidate over his remarks about the Israel-Hamas conflict, paving the way for George Galloway's victory last week.

Despite this setback, Labour's polling figure was only down two points on the start of the year in a survey that, if replicated at the general election, would see the party win a landslide victory.

The poll saw a significant rise in support for Reform UK, doubling from 4% to 8% since January in a development that will further alarm some Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats and the Greens saw their positions improve slightly, reaching 9% and 8% respectively.

Ipsos also noted an apparent "enthusiasm gap" opening up, with only 62% of Conservative supporters saying they were certain to vote, compared to 76% of Labour supporters.

Monday's poll, based on a survey of 1,000 British adults between February 21 and 28, also saw Mr Sunak score his lowest net approval rating so far.

Just 19% of people said they were satisfied with the Prime Minister's performance, while 73% said they were dissatisfied.

Satisfaction with Sir Keir Starmer has also fallen since January, despite Labour's overall position holding up. Some 55% said they were dissatisfied with the Labour leader, up seven points since January, while 29% said they were satisfied.

Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos, said: "The historical comparisons continue to look ominous for Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives.

"The Ipsos Political Monitor series started in the late 70s and has never recorded a Conservative vote share this low - and the job satisfaction trends for the Prime Minister and his Government since he took office are also heading downwards.

"Combined with Labour taking leads on issues of economic credibility to go with their traditional strengths in public services, this means the Conservatives face big challenges across a number of fronts if they are to turn the situation around."