Is the tide turning?
What I told a major conference of financial investors
Greetings from Harrogate where I’m giving a talk to a major conference for financial investors on the next general election in Britain —which is rumoured to be scheduled for November 2024. If true, this means we’ll have the UK and US elections at the same time, making 2024 a truly vintage year for political nerds. Rejoice!
And it’s a great time to be talking about it because things are starting to move. Speak to people in Westminster and there’s increasing talk about Rishi Sunak and his team turning the tide. I keep meeting people who tell me the next election, is going to be more like 1992 (a surprise Conservative victory) than 1997 (a total Tory wipeout).
But while I’m certainly open to that possibility I also think we need to stay focused on what I like to call “the fundamentals” -the metrics that really matter when it comes to election outcomes. And if you look at those, as we’re about to, then they tell a pretty consistent story. Let me explain what I mean with the help of a few charts …
The polls are narrowing. As I pointed out weeks ago, Team Sunak are certainly starting to turn the ship around. Talk to Conservative MPs and there’s a new sense of confidence or at least reassurance that stability is returning. In the polls, since the days before Sunak took over as prime minister the Conservative Party’s share of the vote has jumped from 23% to almost 30%, while Labour’s average poll lead has been slashed in half, falling from just over 30 points to just under 15 points. Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence this has coincided with the Stop the Boats strategy, which is helping the Conservatives win back their 2019 voters. That said, as you can see below, Labour still hold a commanding lead and one that is enough to put them into power with a majority -just about.
Sunak’s ratings are also improving. True, they’re still nowhere near as high as they were during furlough, when Dishi Rishi was one of the most popular politicians in Britain. But they are improving. This week, he recorded his highest approval rating since January. His net negative rating is now -6, making him significantly more popular than both the Conservative Party and the government more generally. Whether he can now firmly disassociate himself from his two main predecessors in the public mindset, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, remains to be seen. But at least in terms of the polling Sunak is clearly one of the only things that appears to be moving in the right direction for the Conservative Party.
And Keir Starmer is flatlining. The blunt reality is that Labour leader Starmer has the opposite problem to Sunak. While Labour is now liked by many voters and is seen to be on the side of ordinary people, Starmer is not. With a lukewarm approval rating of +5, his ratings remain disappointing for an opposition leader who is campaigning after thirteen years of Conservative rule, a succession of major scandals, rampant inflation, and the most severe cost of living crisis for more than half a century. Something just is not connecting with Starmer and the British people. And if he’s not impressed voters by now then he’s distinctly unlikely to do so over the next year or so. Clearly, opposition leaders do not need to dazzle voters. They merely need to project credibility and competence. But were I in Team Starmer I’d certainly be asking some tough questions about why he is not winning over a larger chunk of the public because if this race does continue to narrow then leadership ratings could end up making all the difference.
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