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Cameron’s Support Drops as Britons Say Government Has Lost Touch

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Support for U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron fell as the majority of Britons said the government is “out of touch” and blamed his administration for causing panic buying of gasoline, polls showed.

Sixty-one percent of Britons said Cameron was doing “badly” as prime minister compared with 34 percent who said he was doing “well,” according to a survey of 1,567 British adults in a poll carried out March 30-31 for the Sunday Times newspaper by London-based YouGov Plc and published yesterday. That compares with readings of 53 percent and 42 percent respectively in a survey conducted March 22-23.

Last week was one of the worst Cameron has had since coming to power in May 2010. Ministers contradicted each other on whether motorists should stockpile gasoline as a fuel-truck drivers’ strike loomed, his party’s co-treasurer quit over allegations of selling access to the prime minister and the opposition and press criticized budget measures. U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague called it “a controversial week.”

A separate survey of 1,127 British adults showed the proportion who agreed with the statement “this government is out of touch with ordinary voters” was 72 percent, ComRes Ltd. said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The share of respondents who agreed with the statement “the government has created an unnecessary panic over the fuel crisis” was 81 percent, the pollster said. ComRes polled people between March 30 and April 1 for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror newspapers. No margin of error was provided.

Labour Lead

With local elections, including that for the mayor of London, scheduled for May 3, the Labour opposition holds a lead over Cameron’s Conservative Party in opinion polls.

Yesterday’s YouGov survey found 42 percent of voters would select Labour if a general election were held now, with 33 percent supporting the Conservatives. That compares with 44 percent and 34 percent respectively in a separate YouGov study published in the Sun newspaper on March 30. The company didn’t provide a margin of error for yesterday’s poll.

ComRes said its survey yesterday showed a measure of the gap in voters’ trust in Conservatives and Labour to “make the right decisions about the economy” was 4 points in favor of the government, compared with 25 points before the March 21 budget. The share of people who said the government was “out of touch” with the public was 49 percent in a February study, ComRes said.

The Conservative share of the vote in a House of Commons special election on March 29 in Bradford, England, fell to 8 percent from 31 percent in the 2010 general election.

Cameron’s Decline

Still, Labour failed to retain the seat in a district with a large Muslim electorate, losing to a former Labour lawmaker, George Galloway, who now represents the anti-war Respect Party.

Cameron’s decline in opinion polls followed a week of negative headlines in the U.K. media. Labour said a cut in the top tax rate in last month’s budget only helped the wealthy. The government was also portrayed as out of touch on other budget measures as a tax slapped on hot, take-out snacks was dubbed “pastygate” and the media branded a freezing of pensioners’ tax allowances a “granny tax.”

Conservative co-treasurer Peter Cruddas resigned on March 25 after the Sunday Times newspaper broadcast footage apparently showing him suggesting access to Cameron could be bought by making donations to the party.

In response, the prime minister’s office published details of donors who dined at his private apartment in February and November last year and in January 2012, as well as a post-general election event in July 2010 and meals at his country residence, Chequers.

Private Briefings

In a follow-up article, the Sunday Times reported yesterday that donors have been invited to at least 15 lunches and dinners with government ministers and other Conservative officials where they received private policy briefings.

Ministers are also anxious to avert a possible fuel-tanker strike that could hit supplies to 90 percent of the U.K.’s 8,700 gas stations, aware of the damage to business and the government in 2000 when petrol-price protesters blockaded refineries.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said on March 28 that Britons would be wise to keep their cars topped up and have a spare jerry can of gasoline or diesel at home to prepare.

Roads Minister Mike Penning said the next day that Maude’s advice “was a mistake” after television footage showed long queues forming outside many gas stations amid fears stocks would run out. A woman in the English city of York was hospitalized the same day with 40 percent burns after gasoline that she was decanting from one container to another in her kitchen ignited.

‘One-Term Haul’

Hague yesterday defended the government’s actions, telling the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” that “the country is in a better state of preparedness now than it was a week ago for the eventuality of a tanker strike, so I think they’ve handled that correctly.”

In an interview published yesterday by the Observer newspaper, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the events of last week represent “the end of the Cameron project” and the Conservatives will lose the next national election.

“It is going to be a one-term haul, I am confident about that,” the newspaper reported Miliband as saying.

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