Coronavirus: British public rally around government despite mounting death toll

Survey finds confidence in government increased during the pandemic

NHS staff members take part in a national "clap for carers" to show thanks for the work of Britain's National Health Service (NHS) workers and frontline medical staff around the country as they battle with the novel coronavirus pandemic, at Brighton General hospital in Brighton, southern England, on May 7, 2020.  / AFP / Glyn KIRK

British public confidence in the government has increased during the Covid-19 outbreak, a poll has found, despite increasing questions over Downing Street’s response to the pandemic.

A survey by the British Foreign Policy Group (BFPG) has found increased trust in the government during the public health emergency had the knock-on effect of increasing the public’s faith in the UK government on the world stage.

“Britons’ enhanced trust in the UK government during the pandemic is carried through to an increased level of trust in the government to act in the nation’s interests in foreign policy and world affairs,” the poll found.

Overall trust was up seven percentage points to 51 per cent with a slim majority now supporting the government on issues of foreign affairs, the survey found.

The poll identified a particular “rallying around the flag” effect which was strongest in areas lying within “red wall” areas.

Voters in these former Labour heartlands abandoned the centre-left opposition party in droves in the UK’s 2019 election principally over its stance on the EU.

“Aside from their recent expression of support for the government in December’s election, it may be the case that these voters are more sensitive to security,” the BFPG said. “Therefore their stake in the government’s handling of the crisis was always likely to be more intensely experienced.”

The galvanising effect the pandemic has had on British public opinion comes despite searching questions being asked of the government and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response to the outbreak.

This week Britain’s death toll from the disease surpassed that of Italy making the UK the country worst-hit by the coronavirus in Europe. The death toll in the UK is 30,615, the second highest in the world behind the United States.

LONDON, ENGLAND  - MAY 08: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen outside Number 10 Downing Street on May 8, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.The UK commemorates the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) with a pared-back rota of events due to the coronavirus lockdown. On May 8th, 1945 the Allied Forces of World War II celebrated the formal acceptance of surrender of Nazi Germany. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

The prime minister, who saw many supporters rally around him after he contracted coronavirus, has been criticised for the UK’s slow imposition of lockdown measures, shortages of protective equipment for healthcare workers and failure to implement a widespread testing regime.

The Covid-19 outbreak has had further impact on the British public’s perception of international politics. The survey found that Britain’s trust in the United States had been eroded by Washington’s response the pandemic.

“Just 28 per cent of Britons now say they trust our strongest historical ally to act responsibly in the world, a fall of 13 percentage points since January,” BFPB said.

The principal reason for the fall was changing attitudes among Conservative voters. The group had previously “expressed out-sized levels of trust in the United States”, the report said. They “are responsible for the largest loss of confidence”, it added.