Whistleblower reveals how Rishi Sunak’s £500,000 focus groups are meant to ‘improve Tories’ image’

A whistleblower has said a chat group authorized by Rishi Sunak as part of a £500,000 taxpayer-funded deal was an attempt to argue that the Conservative Party should not be blamed for the cost crisis of life.

The participant said The Independent of his “disgust” at what he described as an attempt to make an argument that the government could not have done more to prevent the crisis.

Rishi Sunak entered the Tory leadership race on Friday, vowing to “rebuild trust” and “unify the country” after Boris Johnson’s scandal-ridden rule.

“I am running to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister. Let’s restore confidence, rebuild the economy and bring the country together,” Mr Sunak tweeted.

The Treasury defended the focus groups against criticism over the huge cost, arguing they ‘measure understanding of policies’ – but the man said he had never been asked about any policies.

Instead, the group was told its objective was to “determine whether the Conservative Party can be held responsible for the cost of living issues you have encountered”, he alleged.

The seven participants, at the 90-minute session held in the West Midlands at the end of April, were then asked if they agreed that “no government could have acted to prevent the cost of living crisis.

“I was shocked and disgusted by what happened, which appeared to be an attempt to indoctrinate the group,” said the whistleblower, who had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

“It left me with a very dirty feeling, that – although I’m not sure exactly what they wanted from me in terms of sound bites – I helped fuel their machine.”

The revelations will fuel criticism that the £500,000 deal – for two focus groups and a national online poll every week until next February – is for the benefit of the Conservative Party, but funded by the taxpayer.

It follows a report, after the March budget, that Mr Sunak ‘polled voters for months to decide how to sell his tax increases’ – quoting a Treasury official as saying: ‘When you mention the word honesty, polls are up 10 to 20 percent.

Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, said: “The eyewitness account of these sessions appears to bear no resemblance to the embarrassment of excuses the Treasury gave to defend the indefensible.

“There are now serious questions for ministers to answer as to why public money has apparently been siphoned off for party political propaganda.”

Ms Rayner added: ‘Why should the public care about Rishi Sunak’s vanity schemes during a cost of living crisis?’

The Independent was contacted by the whistleblower after the £500,000 contract came to light. He provided his name, but it cannot be released due to the agreement he signed.

We saw proof of his involvement in the form of an email sent by a market research company called Podengo, on behalf of “our client Deltapoll” – the company with which the Treasury has its contract.

Confirmation of his acceptance into the chat group gives no clue as to what questions to ask, describing him only as “Project Vox”. Participants were each paid £50.

The man, a charity worker in his 30s who has participated in several dozen focus groups, added: ‘The focus seemed to be on the Conservative Party and how to improve its image.

“It was very, very different from other market research groups I’ve been on, which were more neutral. I’ve never come across this before.

At one point the group was asked if they ‘believed’ the official inflation rate figure of 8% at the time, although the man said it was unclear why.

He was also asked about the general idea of ​​a windfall tax on energy companies, but not about Mr Sunak’s policy – a reversal which was not announced until a month later.

The man said he disputed the implication that ministers could not have acted differently in the face of the cost of living crisis, but felt such interventions were not the welcome.

The Treasury acknowledged he led the focus group he attended, in the West Midlands at the end of April, but insisted he was complying with procurement regulations.

A spokesperson said: ‘The Treasury conducts regular surveys to help develop and measure the impact and understanding of its policies.

“This ballot is administered by the civil service and is politically neutral without reference to any political party.”

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