Boris Johnson’s ‘government by focus group’ approach – favoured by his senior aide Dominic Cummings – is causing growing discontent amongst Tory MPs after a number of contracts were revealed by a Sunday newspaper.
The Sunday Times reports that millions of pounds are being spent on surveys and focus groups to track public opinion on government’s handling of coronavirus and other policies.
MPs told the newspaper that such reliance on data meant that government was avoiding clear ‘leadership’, prompting an expletive from a Downing Street insider.
The Cabinet Office ordered a two-year contract with YouGov to survey the public on British attitudes, but the cost of the contract is estimated to have already exceeded the £318,700 projection due to the amount of polling required, after just one year.
The newspaper reports that Hanbury Strategy, set up by Vote Leave communications chief Paul Stephenson and former Downing Street adviser Ameet Gill, have been carrying out separate coronavirus polling.
And Public First has started a year-long £840,000 contract to conduct virtual focus groups from March.
Another focus group, Britain Thinks, is said to have secured a contract with the Department of Health.
The business, created by Gordon Brown’s preferred pollster Deborah Mattinson, is said to be starting a £2 million deal with the Department for Transport.
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It is also claimed pollster Kantar has agreed £705,000 contract with the Cabinet Office for ‘social research services’ over the next six months.
A Tory backbencher hit out at the claims, by telling the newspaper: ‘Leadership is about leading. The clue is in the name…
‘We’ve taken an age to get shops and pubs open. At the moment we are seeing neither leadership or competence.’
But one source with a pollster – said to be an ally of Johnson – pointed out that ‘all governments do polling, there is just more of it’.
They added: ‘There is a word for government by focus group: it’s ‘government”.
A senior figure in government used an expletive to dismiss the allegations.
‘The idea that we are not making decisions unless a poll says we can is bullsh*t.
‘The best evidence for that is that we are opening up and the polling evidence is that the public does not really want to.’
Last month it was reported that Dominic Cummings favoured a ‘Vote Leave approach’ to guiding the government on lockdown, by referring to focus groups to guide decisions.