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Labour is more trusted on defence than the Tories! Poll reveals voters now associate Conservatives with cutting military spending, not increasing it

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Voters no longer view the Tories as the party of defence, a damning poll reveals.

In a shot across the Prime Minister’s bow, Labour is trusted more than his party on national security and defence, the survey for the Mail found.

And more people now associate the Tories with cutting defence spending rather than increasing it after years of the military being ‘hollowed out’.

The dire findings will rock Downing Street as they are a far cry from a decade ago, when the Tories enjoyed double-digit leads over Labour in polls on the issue. It suggests it will become a key battleground in the election, with seven in ten people saying the parties’ stance on defence could sway which way they vote.

It comes amid the Government’s refusal to say when it will hike defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP. At present, it is spending around 2.3 per cent and says it will be increased only ‘as soon as economic conditions allow’.

Voters no longer view the Tories as the party of defence, a damning poll reveals (Stock Photo)

Voters no longer view the Tories as the party of defence, a damning poll reveals (Stock Photo)

More people now associate the Tories with cutting defence spending rather than increasing it after years of the military being 'hollowed out' (Stock Photo)

More people now associate the Tories with cutting defence spending rather than increasing it after years of the military being ‘hollowed out’ (Stock Photo)

The Mail can also reveal that, before this month’s Budget, the Treasury offered Defence Secretary Grant Shapps a ‘journey’ to 2.5 per cent, but it would take up to ten years.

The disclosure, by former Armed Forces minister James Heappey, has sparked incredulity within the party.

The survey found that while most say they are proud of the Armed Forces, they believe they are too weak to fight a major war. A majority also say ‘too little’ is being spent on defence, ‘too few’ personnel have been recruited in recent years and they would back a boost for defence spending over tax cuts.

The Daily Mail’s Don’t Leave Britain Defenceless campaign is calling for an immediate rise to 2.5 per cent, increasing to at least 3 per cent by 2030.

Tory MPs last night warned that Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt must find more money for defence – and quickly – if the party is to stand a fighting chance in the election. Former defence secretary Sir Gavin Williamson said: ‘You’ve seen the Prime Minister set out the ambition to get to 2.5 per cent. But we need to not just have that ambition, we need to spell out with absolute clarity as to when that will be delivered.

‘You do need to be growing that defence base quite rapidly now. I certainly hope it’s included in our manifesto.’

Former Armed Forces minister Mark Francois said the poll results were ‘truly shocking’, adding: ‘When Margaret Thatcher roundly defeated first Michael Foot and then Neil Kinnock in the 1980s, strong defence was a fundamental part of the Conservative brand.

‘How many more countries does (Vladimir) Putin have to invade before our politicians finally catch up with British public opinion over the need for much stronger defences?’

In a shot across the Prime Minister's bow, Labour is trusted more than his party on national security and defence, the survey for the Mail found (pictured: PM Rishi Sunak at RAF Lossiemouth military base)

In a shot across the Prime Minister’s bow, Labour is trusted more than his party on national security and defence, the survey for the Mail found (pictured: PM Rishi Sunak at RAF Lossiemouth military base)

The dire findings will rock Downing Street as they are a far cry from a decade ago, when the Tories enjoyed double-digit leads over Labour in polls on the issue (pictured: Sir Keir Starmer)

The dire findings will rock Downing Street as they are a far cry from a decade ago, when the Tories enjoyed double-digit leads over Labour in polls on the issue (pictured: Sir Keir Starmer)

The Mail can also reveal that, before this month's Budget, the Treasury offered Defence Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured, right, with Britain's Chief of the General Staff, General Patrick Sanders) a 'journey' to 2.5 per cent, but it would take up to ten years

The Mail can also reveal that, before this month’s Budget, the Treasury offered Defence Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured, right, with Britain’s Chief of the General Staff, General Patrick Sanders) a ‘journey’ to 2.5 per cent, but it would take up to ten years

The disclosure, by former Armed Forces minister James Heappey (pictured), has sparked incredulity within the party

The disclosure, by former Armed Forces minister James Heappey (pictured), has sparked incredulity within the party

Tory MP Richard Drax, a former soldier who sits on the Commons defence committee, said: ‘Our very own Defence Secretary has warned we are in a “pre-war” period, yet we commit a measly 2 per cent to the defence of our country, which should be any government’s top priority.’

The poll for the Mail, by Redfield and Wilton Strategies, found that 28 per cent of voters associate the Tories with slashing defence spending, compared to the 26 per cent who associate them with increasing it. Asked which party they trusted more on national security and defence, 34 per cent said Labour, compared with 23 per cent for the Tories.

In 2015, the Conservatives enjoyed an 11 percentage point poll lead over Labour on defence.

The Mail poll also suggests there is considerable support for boosting defence spending. Some 40 per cent believe the Government is spending ‘too little’. A similar number said they would back a boost to military spending even if it meant the Government could not afford more tax cuts.

The Government argues it has increased defence spending in recent years. The Ministry of Defence received a four-year settlement in the 2020 Spending Review, when it was given an extra £16.5 billion over the 2020/21 to 2024/25 period.

Last year’s spring Budget allocated an extra £5 billion over two years, with a further £2 billion per year in subsequent years up to 2027/28. But critics point out that when inflation is factored in, the budget between 2021/22 and 2024/25 will have increased by only around £1.1 billion in real terms.

At the peak of the Cold War in 1984, Britain spent 5.5 per cent of GDP on the military – £57 billion on a GDP of £1.037 trillion. Twenty years later, it plunged to 2.2 per cent of £1.8 trillion – meaning the Armed Forces got £39.5 billion. It has not risen above 2.5 per cent since 2010.

Former defence secretary Sir Gavin Williamson (pictured) said: 'You've seen the Prime Minister set out the ambition to get to 2.5 per cent. But we need to not just have that ambition, we need to spell out with absolute clarity as to when that will be delivered'

Former defence secretary Sir Gavin Williamson (pictured) said: ‘You’ve seen the Prime Minister set out the ambition to get to 2.5 per cent. But we need to not just have that ambition, we need to spell out with absolute clarity as to when that will be delivered’

Former Armed Forces minister Mark Francois (pictured) said the poll results were 'truly shocking'

Former Armed Forces minister Mark Francois (pictured) said the poll results were ‘truly shocking’

He added: 'How many more countries does (Vladimir) Putin have to invade before our politicians finally catch up with British public opinion over the need for much stronger defences?' (pictured: Putin speaking to military pilots in March)

He added: ‘How many more countries does (Vladimir) Putin have to invade before our politicians finally catch up with British public opinion over the need for much stronger defences?’ (pictured: Putin speaking to military pilots in March)

At the peak of the Cold War in 1984, Britain spent 5.5 per cent of GDP on the military – £57 billion on a GDP of £1.037 trillion (pictured: President Ronald Reagan and PM Margaret Thatcher)

At the peak of the Cold War in 1984, Britain spent 5.5 per cent of GDP on the military – £57 billion on a GDP of £1.037 trillion (pictured: President Ronald Reagan and PM Margaret Thatcher)

Philip van Scheltinga, Redfield and Wilton’s director of research, said: ‘Our poll makes it clear that the public thinks the Armed Forces have not been given the attention and investment they need. That’s yet another reason why the Conservatives are heading for an electoral catastrophe.’

Redfield and Wilton surveyed 1,500 British adults this week.

A government spokesman said: ‘We have been clear that we need to spend more on defence in a more dangerous and contested world. That is why the Government has overseen the largest sustained defence spending increase since the end of the Cold War.’



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