UK Politics

Underestimate Corbyn at your peril, Dominic Raab says

Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright EPA

The Conservatives would underestimate Jeremy Corbyn "at their peril", a Tory MP has said.

Dominic Raab said voters were "sick and tired" of "synthetic" politicians.

At a fringe event looking at perceptions of the Tories, Mr Raab also said some people wrongly saw its MPs as "fat, male" and "aristocratic".

The panel debated what they said were "fundamental problems" with the Conservatives' "brand " compared with Labour.

Before the debate, the panel watched a presentation by Ipsos Mori pollster Gideon Skinner, who said that while Theresa May was in a "honeymoon" period and compared favourably with Mr Corbyn in polling, more people liked Labour as a party than the Conservatives.

"I think we underestimate Corbyn at our peril," said Mr Raab, a former justice minister.

Despite dismissing the Labour leader's politics as a "reheating of the loony left", he said his strong poll ratings for honesty could be a powerful weapon in the current climate.

"The biggest challenge we have got as Tories is people think we are a party of their heads and their wallets, not their hearts," he said.

Image caption The 'beyond the bubble' debate looked at public perceptions of the Tory party

Some people have a "lingering perception" that the Parliamentary party is "fat, stale, male, balding... aristocratic", Mr Raab added, saying the current crop of MPs disproved this image.

Housing Minister Gavin Barwell recounted his struggle to win over long-term Labour voters in his marginal Croydon Central constituency.

He said David Cameron had succeeded in winning some people over to the Tory case, but that the Eton-educated ex-PM's "personal background made it difficult for him to change certain people's views".

Mrs May's "different background" might make it easier for her to win over working-class voters in the Midlands and North of England, he said.

"My fear is that the Conservative Party will fall victim to complacency," he added.

Another MP, Heidi Allen, who has campaigned against government cuts to tax credits, said when she did so people told her she was in the wrong party.

"Why is it not OK to care about people and be a Tory?" she asked.

"I want people to vote for us because they like us not because they begrudgingly think it's best for them."

Ms Allen said ministers needed to "get their hands dirty" to widen the party's appeal, and added: "Maybe we could pick MPs and ministers who actually know a little bit about that department."