Majority of Tory voters oppose strikes – but back nurses’ walkouts

Nurses’ strikes - Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency
Nurses’ strikes - Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency

Tory voters are overwhelmingly opposed to public sector strikes, according to a new poll suggesting Rishi Sunak should stand firm against the unions.

Walkouts by nurses are the only ones supported by people who backed the Conservatives at the last election, the new survey has revealed. Industrial action by teachers, civil servants, railway workers and Border Force staff is hugely unpopular among the Tory base.

There is greater sympathy for the strikers among the general public, although only medical staff and firefighters scored support of more than 50 per cent.

Separate polling by Ipsos found only a fifth of Tory voters support Wednesday’s joint day of action by unions, designed to cause maximum disruption. It revealed that only three in 10 people believe a Labour government would do a better job of ending the walkouts.

The results will come as a boost to Number 10 and are likely to steel Mr Sunak’s resolve as he continues to face down union pay demands.

Backing for nurses and ambulance workers has held up at a high level, suggesting he may look to strike a swift deal with them, but support for walkouts in other sectors has dropped compared with previous surveys.

The Tory voters survey, carried out by Opinium for the Fairness Foundation, revealed that a majority sympathised with arguments in favour of the strikes – but that did not translate into support for action.

Two thirds agreed with the argument that wages have not kept pace with inflation, meaning workers are worse off. Three quarters supported the sentiment that the pay gap between chief executives and staff has become too large, and three in five agreed that workers’ salaries are too low for a decent standard of living.

Nurses were the only group to register a result in favour of their walkout, with 44 per cent for and 42 per cent against. Ambulance workers were the next most popular, registering 40 per cent support compared to 45 per cent opposition.

Two-thirds of Tory voters now oppose the rail strikes, while support for them among the general public has slipped to 37 per cent. Only one in five Conservatives backed teaching strikes, with per cent against.

Overall, 44 per cent of the public said they supported the schools walkout, down from the 51 per cent registered by a YouGov poll on Jan 17. Fewer than a fifth of Tory voters backed strikes by Border Force officials, whilst just 13 per cent thought civil servants were right to down tools.

Will Snell, the chief executive of the Fairness Foundation, said the results showed Britons were “concerned” about inequality and access to public services.

“When it comes to strikes, most people are aware of the large disparities in wealth and living standards and think that Britain has fundamental issues with equality and fairness,” he said.

“If politicians of all parties want to avoid widespread industrial action in the future, they would do well to find ways to build a fairer society, in which people feel they are able to thrive – not just survive – and have access to the high-quality public services that they deserve.”