UK Labour could splinter Conservative politics for a decade in 2024

Feb 16, 2024
General Election 2024 written on a sign with Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben in the background

It is almost impossible to devise a scenario in which the Labour Party does not win the UK election in 2024. The biggest remaining question may well be whether the victory is sufficiently large to almost guarantee a second term and possibly splinter the Conservative side of UK politics for a decade or more.

There will be an election in the UK in 2024. It will probably be held around October but it could be as soon as May to coincide with local government elections.

All indications are that the Labour Party will not only win but will have a victory of historic proportions.

Life doesn’t come with guarantees. Therefore, no victory can be taken for granted. But it will take an unprecedented reversal of public opinion for the Labour Party to fail to win a majority.

The indications are more than just the polls, but the polling is extraordinarily strong. Over the last twelve months the data has been very consistent. The Labour Party’s lead over the Conservatives has always been more than 15% and has averaged about 18%.

This is obviously very strong but how does it compare to previous elections which oppositions went on to win? A recent analysis suggests that at this stage in advance of the previous five elections which have led to a change of government the average opposition lead has been about 13% and falling. The current opposition lead is 18% and appears stable.

This analysis makes it unsurprising that Electoral Calculus, which bases its forecasts mainly on rolling polling data predicts a landslide Labour victory. Their February 2024 numbers suggest an overall Labour majority of 256 with Labour winning 459 seats, Conservative 126, SNP 18 and Liberal Democrats 31. As well as the overall national results this also reflects a major decline in support for the Scottish National Party given their internal issues and problems with their governance in Scotland.

In summary, the objective analysis suggests a very high probability of a landslide victory for Labour whenever the election is held.

However, election forecasting and analysis is not a science. There are always subjective factors which need to be weighed with the data.

In this case the overwhelming number of these subjective factors point in the direction of a Labour victory also.

But first, a necessary caveat.

One of the advantages of incumbency is the capacity to act rather than just talk about issues. This gives the Conservatives some room for manoeuvre. There will be a budget in which they appear to be suggesting there will be further tax cuts. While it is hard to see this turning the tide overall, it may help shore up the traditional Conservative seats in the South-East which appear to be in danger at the moment.

The only other issue which, at this stage appears to have the potential to move the needle in a major way is immigration. The “stop the boats” mantra which is all too familiar to Australians does not seem to be biting yet, but it can tap into some deep-seated fears if promoted with sufficient cynicism.

However, the underlying issues should also be a source of concern for the Conservatives.

Firstly, there are the leadership changes from 2019. Boris Johnson, whatever his other flaws, was a vote winner. Jeremy Corbyn, whatever his other virtues, was a vote loser. These trends were especially evident in the traditional Labour seats in the North of England, the so-called “red wall”. Almost all of these seats were lost by Labour in 2019. Almost all of them appear to be on course to be regained in 2024.

The second worrying trend for the Conservatives is the regular appearance of scandals and resignations from the House of Commons. Many of these have led to by-elections, all of which the Conservatives have lost. Most of these have been lost to the Labour Party but others have been lost to the Liberal Democrats. Even seats which were previously held by 10000 votes or more have been lost. And there are several more by-elections scheduled as the scandals and resignations continue.

The Economist describes the third damaging aspect of the current Conservative party’s political situation as “…the party is defined primarily by its divisions. It has broken into an alphabet soup of factions.” All organisations, particularly political parties are prone to develop factions as part of the legitimate contest of ideas and approaches. But when the divisions proliferate and turn on each other it tends to be a terminal sign for governments. The factions seem to be divided between those who seek to change the direction (and the leadership) now and those which are positioning themselves for after the election.

The fourth aspect, which is typical of the problems faced by struggling government parties, is the secondary contest with parties other than Labour which will at the least eat into the Conservative Party vote in a manner which can be devastating in a first-past-the-post system. In this case the challenges come from Reform UK on the right and the Liberal democrats on the centre-right. The Liberal Democrats have shown that they can win seats in the South-East from the Conservatives when the Tories are at a low ebb. It is hard to see Reform UK winning any seats but as their vote has increased over the last twelve months it has come at the expense of the Conservative Party. As Reform are now polling 10% nationally, they have the capacity to undermine the Conservative vote in a number of competitive seats.

These factors combine to create a very threatening scenario for the Conservative Government.

It is important to remember the opportunities open to the government to take initiatives which could either be popular in themselves or “wedge” the Labour party in ways which could be damaging.

It is also true that parties of the left and centre-left have a long history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

However, it is almost impossible to devise a scenario in which the Labour Party does not win the UK election in 2024. The biggest remaining question may well be whether the victory is sufficiently large to almost guarantee a second term and possibly splinter the Conservative side of UK politics for a decade or more.

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