Actually all IS lost for Sunak
A short corrective to some strange interpretations of the elections
It is one thing to say that a Labour majority at the next election is far from in the bag, though the polls continue to show Labour leads which point to just that. A degree of caution and an almost superstitious notion that the polls must inevitably tighten in favour of a sitting government are both understandable.
It is another to headline an analysis of last Thursday’s disastrous local election results as “All is not lost for Sunak”, as the Sunday Times did this weekend, a sentiment repeated in the paper’s editorial.
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First, the two things are not the same by a long chalk. Were Sunak’s objective to be a majority prime minister after the next election he would need to hold 320-plus seats compared with the 365 won in 2019. Absolutely nothing currently points to that happening. Of course he may hope to hang on even if he dips below 320 and the Conservatives are the largest party, but apart from the DUP (currently with 8 MPs) no other party will sign up to support his government. All it really takes to see a change of government in the UK is for him to lose 70 from the 2019 haul and Labour to win, say, 60 (including their likely gains in Scotland) and in that situation - barring war with China - is almost certainly out.
If that or something akin to it were the outcome there would be fulminations in the Conservative supporting press about the largest party going into opposition - but as with the monarchy that’s our system - so suck it up Dacre. And by the way it should be stressed neither current polling nor the local election results suggest an outcome remotely as beneficial to the Tories as even this one. And a second by-the-way (I’d never have got away with another digression in a Times column), thinking about it I am not sure Sunak is at all cut out for Opposition. My prediction: after a post-defeat all-Hampshire battle with Suella, stand by for victory of the sword-wielder. My money’s on Penny.
So, all is indeed probably lost for Sunak. But second, what about that Labour majority? In past years the chances of an Opposition going from a landslide defeat to a majority in one election would always be regarded as improbable. Though not impossible. Edward Heath managed it in 1970, overturning the 1966 Labour majority of 98 and, incidentally, confounding pre-election opinion polls showing a significant government lead. I remember as a teenager walking along a road in North London and looking at the Conservative posters that had suddenly appeared in windows and thinking “how did that happen?” And Tony Blair defeated a Tory majority and won the biggest Labour landslide ever all in one go. Sometimes pundits invoke iron laws that, on examination, turn out to be rubber.
It is nevertheless a tall order for Keir Starmer. Corbyn-Labour’s 2019 vote share was a meagre 32%, Labour has been out of power since 2010 and the centre/centre left vote is split between several parties. And though the Labour plurality (indeed majority) among younger voters is extraordinary in historical terms, they will always be less likely to turn out on polling day.
Even so, a Labour majority is more plausible I would argue than the re-election of a Conservative government. The polls say so and the election results say so. Because of the internet and social media anti-Tory sentiment in the country (more inchoate than measurable, it is true) seems easier to mobilise to practical effect than it once was and, bluntly, on the great issues such as cost of living and the NHS, time is running out for the government. When you can’t go into an election and credibly claim that anything has improved as a result of your decade and half in government and your opposition steadfastly refuses to be bonkers, you’re in trouble.
And if anybody tells you different, don’t look at their headlines - examine their reasoning. Maybe sometimes also examine their motivation.
I think (hope) that, when the time comes, people will make use of available tactical voting databases to find the candidate in their area best placed to oust the Tories.
I know many Brits like the potential for large Govt majorities provided by FPTP, but personally I find the prospect of progressive centre-left parties working together rather attractive. And more democratic.
I've really been enjoying these writings so thanks for putting them out there.
Like we're seeing with a number of ex-BBC writers/presenters/journalists, it's refreshing to see what an intelligent analyst has to say when not bound by their employer's often-curious tenets.
Duly shared and, when finances improve, will happily support in more material ways.