What follows isn’t a prediction about what is going to happen in 2024. It’s just trying to gauge where the parties are at present and to that end, attempting to take a stab at what might happen if there was a general election that took place in the next couple of months’ time.
Several things to note: there won’t be an election called anytime soon, that is almost certain. Also, things can change drastically over the course of several years, it’s so obvious to say it’s almost redundant to point out. Boris Johnson could screw up in some manner that voters actually register and care about, for instance. Anger at the Brexit deal could rise quicker than anyone reasonable currently expects (although I doubt it, unfortunately). But if things don’t change over the next three years – if minds have settled on Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson and won’t be moved by events to come – then this is where I think we end up in 2024.
I believe that in a snap 2021 general election, the Tories would get a vote share of somewhere between 43 and 46%. Reform isn’t threatening them in any meaningful sense, and that’s when we’re still in the middle of a lockdown large portions of the right hate. I think Labour would get somewhere between 35 and 40%, although I actually think they’d land somewhere on the higher end of that scale.
The Lib Dem vote would almost certainly be further cannibalised, by Labour mostly, but also the Tories when many of those who voted Lib Dem in 2019 return to the fold, no longer casting their ballot on that issue. The Green surge, as it always does, will melt down to 2 or 3% come polling day.
I think the Tories would end up with something that looked a lot like Cameron’s majority in 2015. So, somewhere between 330 and 340 seats. A slim but workable majority. Labour would end up in Ed Miliband territory – 230 to 245 seats. An improvement on 2019, certainly, but nowhere near winning.
The Lib Dems would be crushed if there was a general election right now. No major issue to run on that is passionately loved by a significant minority, an election that would be seen as life or death between the two major parties by almost every voter, all in addition to having made a vote for the party in 2019 seem wasted, I don’t see how they wouldn’t get squeezed every which way. I think they might end up with no seats, or at best three or four.
The Greens will hold Brighton Pavilion so long as Caroline Lucas is there. The SNP would get every seat in Scotland bar maybe one or two – although that could be in the midst of changing. Will be interesting to see if the scandal enveloping the party has any effect on their electoral fortunes in May. That will tell us a lot about not only how the SNP would do in their Westminster seats at a general election, but the future of the United Kingdom.
Anyhow, as I said, things change, particularly over three years time. Labour people can hold onto the hope that anything can happen – and over the last decade in politics, usually has. Having said that, I am starting to fear there is nothing Starmer can do to break through and that the Tories are destined to win the next election. It always seems to work out for Boris Johnson in the end, somehow.
Michael Hindley says
I think Tories will have a good look at the local results in May, if it seems they’re escaping blame for the mess they’ve made, Booster Johnson will grant us a summer of fun aided by press and go for a valedictory “Boris did it” autumn election. Johnson will then retire to make money before the post Covid & Brexit collapse of the economy really sets in. A new PM, Sunak perhaps, Tories will certainly want to present UK’s first South Asian PM, will be seen as “fresh” whilst “old” Starmer plods on. Tories win next election with slightly reduced majority.
Booster Johnson will grant us a summer of fun aided by press and go for a valedictory “Boris did it” autumn election.
He absolutely won’t. He’ll be too scared of what happened to Churchill in 1945 happening to him: that he’ll be associated with the crisis, and the electorate will go, ‘thanks for getting us through, but you’ve done your job, we want someone new to start the rebuilding.’
Gratitude for past successes doesn’t win elections: he needs another message like ‘Get Brexit Done’. He will want to make sure that by the next election, like in 2019, he’s halfway through a project (presumably, the ‘leveling up’ we keep hearing about) so that he can say, ‘give me the tools and let me finish the job’ rather than ‘job done’.
Allex Macfie says
I recall a piece in The Economist from (I think) Spring 1993 in which “Bagehot” imagines PM John Major facing new Labour leader Gordon Brown in the first PMQs following a 1996 General Election in which the Tories have been re-elected with an increased majority of 60 seats. Somebody’s crystal ball needed polishing.
Any prediction for a 2024 GE based on the state of play now is likely to be way off the mark, and not just because a lot can change in 3 years. In case you hadn’t noticed, we are in the midst of a national crisis. People tend to rally behind the government during a crisis that’s not of the government’s own making. Tory support was often above 50% during the Falklands Crisis, and the UK military victory over Argentina was still fresh in voters’ minds in the 1983 GE.
But the crisis caused by the pandemic also means something that didn’t happen in 1982-3, which is the suspension of normal politics, with no elections at all in England and Wales for over a year. The government is getting the lion’s share of media coverage, with minor opposition parties in particular getting barely a mention most of the time. Last year, during the first lockdown, the Tories were regularly getting over 50% of the vote. What’s striking is how they’ve managed to squander that commanding lead since then. There are a lot of chickens to come home to roost once the pandemic subsides and normal politics resumes. Unless Johnson does decide to call a GE this year or next (itself a risk as “M” notes above and as Theresa May found out) we are likely to see a 2024 GE in which voters are counting the cost of the Tory bungling of the response to Covid-19, as well as of Brexit. They may well shore up their vote among socially conservative voters (e.g. Red Wall and rural elderly people) by a Trumpian stoking up of the culture war, but are likely to flop in metropolitan areas.
Specifically about the Lib Dems, never underestimate a Lib Dem ground campaign. People should know that by now. The death of the party has been predicted many times in the past, and it has never happened, even following the near-death experience of 2015. The Lib Dems are actually safe in their seats in the south of England, and would hold onto all of them on current polling assuming uniform national swing. This means that even on the lowest current poll ratings the party is assured 5 or 6 seats. The recent Focaldata seat predictions, in which the party would win only 2 seats on a drop of only 3 percentiles nationally, are way off beam.
But Lib Dem support tends to drift downwards during electoral peacetime, and the party has a curious habit of coming out of apparent hibernation during election campaigns. Not for nothing are we called the “cockroaches” of UK politics. Polling evidence from local elections in 2020 (such as they were) show the Lib Dems as the “winners” in the sense of gaining the most seats from other parties. So even in a GE in a few weeks time, Lib Dems could well do better than current polling suggests. The party will almost certainly exceed current (low) expectations in the May 2021 local elections, due to ground campaigning in areas where it is well organised. This is generally what happens in mid-term elections, and especially considering local circumstances such as the current Labour in-fighting in Liverpool and Tory unpopularity in metropolitan areas. So I really would not write off the Lib Dems, as the parrot has a funny habit of coming back from pining for the fjords.
Unless Johnson does decide to call a GE this year or next (itself a risk as “M” notes above and as Theresa May found out) we are likely to see a 2024 GE in which voters are counting the cost of the Tory bungling of the response to Covid-19, as well as of Brexit.
A scenario I heard floated, which seems plausible, is a 2023 election. That wouldn’t be an ‘early’ election as in our system generally an election is considered reasonable any time in the last year of a Parliament and this one runs until 2024 (with a bit of fudging due to nobody wanting another December vote), but of course whether Boris goes for it will depend on the situation closer to the time.
Not sure what ‘the cost of the Tory bungling of the response to Covid-19, as well as of Brexit’ means. The biggest cost of dealing with the kerfuffle is the furlough scheme, and that would have happened whoever was in power, so can’t be blamed on ‘Tory bungling’. Beside the eye-watering cost of that, even bad decisions taken by the Tory government like wasting however many billion on a doomed test-and-trace scheme look like pretty small beer.
Brexit is something where the government will benefit from putting the election off for as long as possible, because the more the economy has had a chance to reconfigure itself to the new situation and get over the transitional pain, the greater the sunk costs in adapting, the less an Opposition can do with the issue. There certainly won’t be any appetitte, after the economy has reconfigured itself around the current deal, to substantially change the deal and make the economy have to reconfigure itself again. So I find it hard to imagine what the Opposition’s line on Brexit will be at the next election, whenever it occurs. I can only think of it being part of a general ‘competence attack’, but that relies on the Opposition being seen as more competent, which if moderate – v – Corbynite infighting continues to intensify is hard to seem them successfully being able to sell.
They may well shore up their vote among socially conservative voters (e.g. Red Wall and rural elderly people) by a Trumpian stoking up of the culture war, but are likely to flop in metropolitan areas.
Quite possibly, but that will easily win them the election as Labour piles up votes in a few already-safe metropolitan seats but then loses vast numbers of marginals in the rest of the country.
As for the Liberal Democrats… I think you are right, they will end up with 5 or 6 seats.
Alex Macfie says
No, what I said was that Lib Dems would win 5 or 6 seats assuming Uniform National Swing based on current polling. Not that I think that will be the result of the next election, as we are so far away from a GE that anything can change. Lib Dems have drifted downwards in the polls partly because there have been no major mid-term elections to give the party any meaningful media coverage. I think that the party will have a moderately successful result in the May local and regional elections (and will do well in London in particular), and the commentariat will be shocked that the election wasn’t the wipeout for the party that they were expecting. This will lead to some uptick in opinion poll support, and to us being more noticed.
The Trumpian culture-war stuff does not play well in all marginal seats, only the Red Wall and a few rural middle England seats. It is likely to put off voters in the traditionally-Tory commuter belt, and many of these seats are Tory-Lib Dem battlegrounds. And now there is no Corbyn-shaped hard-left bogeyman that the Tories can use to scare waverers into sticking with the ‘devil they know’. So if the Tories go all Trump and play the culture war, then may shore up their support in the Red Wall and the East of Englad ‘Brexit Belt’, but risk losing seats to the Lib Dems in the south of England.
This will lead to some uptick in opinion poll support, and to us being more noticed.
Alex Macfie says
your point being?
your point being?
That your denial is really really cute.
Alex Macfie says
Your infantile comment shows you completely miss my point. I wasn’t complaining, I was stating the reality, that the Westminster commentariat tend to ignore the Lib Dems during electoral peacetime, causing the party to drift in the opinion polls. But the commentariat don’t notice ground campaigning, which results in the party outperforming expectations in mid-term elections, and it confuses them every time.
I wasn’t complaining, I was stating the reality, that the Westminster commentariat tend to ignore the Lib Dems during electoral peacetime, causing the party to drift in the opinion polls. But the commentariat don’t notice ground campaigning, which results in the party outperforming expectations in mid-term elections, and it confuses them every time.
No, I got your point, you’re still clinging to the delusion that the Lib Dems outperforming expectations in the local elections will somehow save them from near-total oblivion in the next general election. It’s sweet, it really is.
Alex Macfie says
“Oblivion” has been predicted for the Lib Dems many times before, generally in the early years of each Parliament. It never happened. A series of strong showings in mid-term elections does put the party back on the political map. Both the 2017 and 2019 GE results, disappointing as they were for the Lib Dems, would likely have been much worse had we not had the Richmond Park by-election victory or the strong 2018~19 local and Euro election performances, respectively. I wrote under another article on this site that Cleggmania probably saved the party from a serious pasting in 2010, preceded as it was by a few rounds of disappointing local election results as well as flagging in the opinion polls. The unmitigated disaster that was the 2015 GE was preceded by a series of very bad mid-term election results and even worse opinion poll ratings.
So what’s curious and touching is your faith in the idea that strong mid-term election results would *not* save the Lib Dems from oblivion.
Alex Macfie says
“The biggest cost of dealing with the kerfuffle is the furlough scheme, and that would have happened whoever was in power, so can’t be blamed on ‘Tory bungling’. Beside the eye-watering cost of that, even bad decisions taken by the Tory government like wasting however many billion on a doomed test-and-trace scheme look like pretty small beer. ”
And you think that will matter to the electorate? Remember that Brexit was won on a false promise based on a claimed £350M a week that was supposed to be being sent to the EU that could have been spent on the NHS. Never mind that this sum was a drop in the ocean of government spending, or that a lot of that money actually came back to the UK in the form of EU grants. They saw the headline figure, thought it sounded like a lot of money that could apparently be saved by leaving the EU,. It was the same with the supposed £250M cost of switching to AV, a sum of money that was notionally spent several times by No2AV campaigners. So however insignificant the cost of bad government decisions on Covid or Brexit might be in the grand scheme of things, the figure involved still look like a lot of money to ordinary voters, and it can be used against the government. More to the point, the money spaffed on things like a doomed test-and-trace scheme was unnecessary expenditure if the government had done things right. The issue isn’t how many billions that were spent on stopping the virus, it’s whether the money was used efficiently and appropriately.
Most areas where “moderate – v – Corbynite infighting continues to intensify” are not the ones where the Tories would benefit. I have mentioned Liverpool already. If Labour starts in-fighting in places like Haringey and Cambridge, again the beneficiaries will be the Lib Dem, as the Tories were driven out of there long ago, and the sort of natural Labour voters who live there now are not at all inclined to vote Tory at all.
And you think that will matter to the electorate?
52% Conservative voting intention this week says it does. Yes, that’s a long way out from the election, but I can’t realy see the salience of the cost of track-and-trace increasing as the pandemic recedes into memory, can you?
Most areas where “moderate – v – Corbynite infighting continues to intensify” are not the ones where the Tories would benefit.
You miss the point. If the picture that Labour presents nationally is that of a divided party that still hasn’t dealt with its Corbynite cancer, that will affect the choice of voters watching from outside just the areas where the actual fighting is occurring. The Militant infiltration, when it became public, didn’t just lose Labour votes in Liverpool.
Alex Macfie says
I’m not aware of any poll giving the Tories 52%. The latest YouGov poll gives them 46% and a 13-point lead over Labour, representing a 4-point swing to the Tories since the previous YouGov poll. Whether this is an outlier, the start of a new trend or a Budget bouce remains to be seen. My money is on the last one. But the principal reason the Tories are still leading is the rallying to the flag in a crisis that I mentioned earlier. When the pandemic subsides is precisely the time when the public will start considering whether the government really did a good job. And the things like the test-and-trace fiasco establish a pattern for future government actions that are likely to cause difficulties in times when normal politics resumes and the public will be less inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt. It’ll be like the Tory sleaze in the 1992–1997 Parliament. No one scandal brought the Tories down, rather it was the drip-drip-drip of successive scandals.
When the pandemic subsides is precisely the time when the public will start considering whether the government really did a good job. And the things like the test-and-trace fiasco establish a pattern for future government actions that are likely to cause difficulties in times when normal politics resumes and the public will be less inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt. It’ll be like the Tory sleaze in the 1992–1997 Parliament. No one scandal brought the Tories down, rather it was the drip-drip-drip of successive scandals.
Thing is that in order to capitalise on that, Labour ave to convince the electorate not jst that the Conservatives bungled their way through (obviously) but that they would have done better. And as Starmer’s approach throughout the whole period has been just to call for whatever the government is obviously about to do anyway, just slightly before they do it, he’s utterly failed to establish any credibility that he would have done any better. There’s nothing he can point to and say, ‘I said do this and the government didn’t do it and that was a mistake.’ At most he can say, ‘I said to do this and the government did it two weeks later than I said’ which, frankly, is not going to stick in people’s minds.
So on test-and-trace, for example, to land the attack Starmer either has to be able to convince people that if he’d been in charge it would have worked (doubtful, as it was obviously doomed form the start) or that he wouldn’t have pumped bilions into it (impossible, as he was calling for it, and nobody believe in a Labour government not spraying money at anything that moves).
They’ll probably try to push the, ‘The NHS was underprepared because of years of Tory cuts’, but for that to really land they’d have had to have been pointing out the danger of a pandemic before 2020, and they weren’t. They were complaining about NHS cuts, of course, but the electorate has that priced in. The sun rises in the east, what goes up must come down, Labour complains the NHS is underfunded. Labour doesn’t get any points for it because it’s just expected that they will say that.
As long as the electorate believe that whoever had been in power in 2020 would have had a torrid time, getting some things right and others disastrously wrong, then the Conservatives won’t suffer any fallout particularly. Only if people believe they made avoidable mistakes, that Labour would have avoided, will they suffer electorally, and so far there’s no sign of that.
The Conservatives didn’t lose in 1997 just because of sleaze, but because Tony Blair made Labour seem like a fresh, new, safe alternative. Starmer’s a long long way from that.
Alex Macfie says
The Tories were deeply unpopular before Blair. The main beneficiaries initially seem to have been the Lib Dems, with the Newbury and Christchurch by-elections, and the Tory rout in the May 1993 round of local elections. In around 1999 there was a counterfactual documentary called If John Smith Had Lived, suggesting that Labour would still have won in 1997 but not with a landslide, and it would have been a rather more left-wing government with (among other things) a halt to privatisations. (Peter Mandelson would have been on the back benches, and Michael Portillo, who would have held his seat, was cast as the Leader of the Opposition.)
It’s often said that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. And by the summer of 1993 the Major government had already passed the point of no return.
As for Covid-19 no-one could have predicted a pandemic to strike at the exact moment that it did. Why would any Opposition party bring that up during normal times? They would be laughed at and accused of “scaremongering”. It’s only since the pandemic struck that it emerged that the government had ignored the recommendations from the pandemic wargaming that it did a few years ago. On the other hand, Labour had been calling for more investment in the NHS for a long time. As for whether anyone other than the Tories could have handled the pandemic better, it looks pretty obvious that a herd of donkeys could have managed it better. So many other countries have managed it better than ours has. The main reason the government has not had so much flak over it so far is the rallying to the flag effect and the government getting the lion’s share of media coverage.
It’s often said that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them.
And like all things that are said often, it’s a bit more than half true. Yes, the election is usually the government’s to lose; but that doesn’t mean that the opposition doesn’t have to at least look like a credible alternative in order to win. Even in 1997, with the Conservatives in meltdown, the public wouldn’t have been so stupid as to elect Jeremy Corbyn, for example.
(Would John Smith have won the 1997 election? Maybe, maybe not. No one can say for sure. Certainly I don’t think the Conservative party would have become quite so undisciplined if they had thought they had a fighting chance.)
On the other hand, Labour had been calling for more investment in the NHS for a long time.
My point exactly: Labour calling for more money for the NHS is priced in. How many times has Labour said there is ‘ to save the NHS’? It excites Labour activists, but the electorate tunes ‘Labour talking about the NHS’ out now.
As for whether anyone other than the Tories could have handled the pandemic better, it looks pretty obvious that a herd of donkeys could have managed it better.
Yes, but we’re talking about the Labour party here. To compare them to a herd of donkeys would be to grossly insult all of donkey-kind.
How many times has Labour said there is ‘ to save the NHS’?
That was supposed to read:
How many times has Labour said there is ‘<some short amount of time> to save the NHS’?