This article originally appeared in our Elevenses newsletter.
Good morning. Ask anyone who knows anything about politics and they will tell you that polling numbers this far out from an election should be taken with a Salt Bae-sized fistful of salt. But with a constant stream of forecasts pointing nearly unanimously to the same thing, you can’t help but feel that a comprehensive Labour win is the only logical outcome at the next General Election, whenever that may be.
The first voting intention survey of 2023 set the marker, putting Labour’s lead over the Conservatives at 20 points with 47 per cent of the support to 27 per cent. Since then, the margin has only grown. A poll out on January 24th put Labour support up three points at 50 per cent versus 21 per cent to the Tories, and others have coalesced around the same level. So far this year, no new poll has put support for Sir Keir Starmer’s party below 47 per cent and no pollster has put support for Rishi Sunak’s party above 26 per cent, suggesting that the political fault lines truly have shifted.
Recent events have done little to change that supposition. Over the last few weeks, the former chancellor was found to have miscalculated his own tax return to the tune of several million pounds, the former culture secretary was found to have broken rules on post-ministerial jobs by accepting a position with Rupert Murdoch-backed TalkTV, the former health secretary was found to have donated only a trifling amount of his controversial jungle appearance fee to his beloved charity and the former prime minister was found to have used the chairman of the BBC as a financial fixer. And to top that off, the PM himself was handed his second fixed penalty fine by the police in less than a year, a feat which is unprecedented for a man in his position. So there is little to suggest that the reputation of the party among members of the public has improved or is likely to improve anytime soon. Come 2024, all things being equal, they are likely to take a comprehensive walloping that could reverse the results of the last snap election and some.
But Rishi has a trump card in his pocket that, whether he likes it or not, could swing things back in his favour, and it comes in the shape of his predecessor-but-one. Last week, a caller to the Jeremy Vine show from West Yorkshire spent a good minute or two berating the Tory Party over its failures, but she said that come the next election she will be voting for them anyway. The reason why was a painfully familiar one. To not vote Conservative would be to let Labour back in, and they, or so she believes, want to take us “back into the EU”. Boris Johnson knows only too well how people feel about this. Appearing on Dorries’ aforementioned TalkTV show he will say that Labour would become “gravitationally sucked” back into the EU’s orbit if it gained power after the next election, something that would “lose us a lot of opportunities that we currently have”.
Labour’s position on the matter, much like it was in 2019, is hopelessly confused. It is complicated by its neutrality and weakened by being so meek and apologetic. The party see Brexit as a broken policy that can be tinkered with and fixed and they are desperately trying to communicate what that means without upsetting people on either side of the divide. But polling (and, indeed, history) suggests that could be a bad idea. Alongside handing Labour a sizable lead, most polls also point to a resurgent Reform UK, formerly known as the Brexit Party. This could well play into Labour’s hands by splitting the Tory vote, but it also shows that they cannot afford to get complacent on relations with the EU. One wrong move and we’re back to 2019 again, and Johnson of all people will know how to gobble that opportunity up.
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