There has been much debate over the possibility of Rishi Sunak undoing the damage done by Liz Truss in the short time she was Prime Minister. Despite Labour’s extortionate polling numbers, steadily, the average polling has shown a decrease in the gap, but not by as much as the former Chancellor would have wanted. Furthermore, the budget did not have the desired effect of an immediate polling bounce.
But with the Windsor framework, aims that have been projected to be achieved and a genuine attempt to deal with the illegal immigration issues, is there actually a chance that the Conservatives could end up winning the next election?
It’s important to note the importance the electoral system will play in any victory the Conservatives may get. The swing Labour needs to win the next election outright is on a similar level, and could be higher, than the swing Blair achieved in 1997. To add to that, in the 1997 election, the constituencies were designed in a way which was favourable to Labour. However in this instance, they will not be, with the newly drawn constituency proposals being favoured by the Conservatives. These constituencies still show that Labour need to have a gap of around 10% to end up ahead in seats in the next election.
However, the electoral system can play into the hands of Labour in regard to tactical voting. As the anti-Tory vote will undoubtedly be over 50%, as no single party has gotten 50% of the vote since 1931 (though the combined national government did in 1935) the power of a sizable tactical vote will overwhelm the Tories, especially if they are below 40% of the vote. This will impact them in many marginals to the Liberal Democrats and Labour, such as seats in Cheadle and Golders Green that were very marginally Conservative in the last election, but have voted for them for nearly 10 years, at the minimum. This will of course mean that it will be substantially harder for the Conservatives to be able hold on to constituencies where there is a greater anti-Tory sentiment, which after the turmoil the party has had in the last term, is likely to increase throughout the country.
The impact of policy
As you can imagine, policy matters. Though it’s cliche to quote, ”it’s the economy, stupid”, it’s also an important guide to how winners and losers are decided in British politics. Labour are currently ahead on economic polling. This would seemingly, of course, signify that Labour would be onto a victory in the next election, but that also shows where the Conservatives need to work on in order to win. Though the Chancellor announced an important projection based on the budget to get inflation down to around 2% by the end of the year, it may not quite cut it as much as is needed. The Conservatives need to add to their inflation reducing-policies and improve the currency situation, making prices lower. This may go against many Conservative ideals, as though there maybe a deflation as opposed to inflation, there’s still many who believe that the companies who are profiting from the increased prices, may not reduce them, and so intervention may be needed. The question will be, are the Conservatives up to the task to do that?
Moreover, the other major economic issue will be wages. With stagnation over pay in many sectors, it has made the cost of living even harder on working-class voters. These are the same types of voter that changed over the Conservatives in 2019, and they will be reliant on them in order to keep their advantage in seats across the working class northern areas in counties such as Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the administrative district Greater Manchester. If voters are still struggling to pay bills as a result of continuous stagnated wages coinciding with energy bill uncertainty and general increase of the price of goods, it will more than likely create a rupture in their very successful voter coalition of the 2019 election.
There is, of course, also one of the main issues that the Conservatives are focussing on: people coming on boats. This has become a greater issue due to Conservative intervention. The Rwanda scheme has been a disaster as no planes have taken place, and the ethical questions surrounding it. All attempts so far from the party have been unable to deal with this exacerbated issue post pandemic. Sunak has stated that this issue is the most important issue to voters, but I wouldn’t quite agree with that. However, the most important issue to those who are more likely to go Reform UK, the Conservatives competition on the right of the party. This is a new challenge for the Conservatives, but one that they’ve generally been successful in electoral terms, as the only two times this happened (UKIP in 2015 and Brexit Party in 2019) they have come away with a majority. But with a reduction in support, it will create a new challenge, as they may take important votes away to make them lose seats rather than stopping them gaining seats.
With Reform polling, in some polls, around 6% that could easily take away some support in many vital seats. Dealing with the people on boats will be a crucial issue for them to deal with. The migration bill recently put through is certainly a hard line bill designed to satisfy these people, but it may turn those closer to the centre away from them, as again the ethical issues that many centre-right MP’s have questioned, specifically over the deportation of children. Despite that, polling has shown an extensive increase in belief the government is able to deal with this issue, even though the bill itself may break international law. The important thing with this, is getting some tangible results, a reduction in people coming through via the boats, but a good way to compromise with the non-hardliners would be to develop to infrastructure in order to make safe passages for asylum seekers, and potentially sack Suella Braverman once its dealt with, put the blame on the less popular elements and then take the credit for the positive solutions.
Let’s say hypothetically, the Conservatives are at 30% going into an election campaign and Labour are at 45%, which isn’t too far off some pollsters at present. Historically, parties that are behind can see a significant boost through a general election campaign, and in some cases, overperform. examples of overperformances include, 1992 and 2015 for the Conservatives, 2010 and 2017 for Labour. Even when there are dominant performances like in 2019 and 1997, there were increases in polls from both the losing parties, which were shown when Blair still thought there’d be a hung Parliament or small majority so made deals with the Lib Dems, and a minute amount of polls suggesting a small majority or hung Parliament in 2019. Regardless, in a general election campaign, it is certainly a likelihood we will see a narrowing of the parties, and when the need for Labour to have such a high swing to get an overall majority, or possibly even get the most seats, it still means there’s a possibility the Tories have potential to over perform the current expectations.
The fightback for the Conservatives will be extremely hard. If they win, they will end up with a maximum of 19 years of concurrent government, the most post-war, something extremely difficult. It will be very hard to convince people who have not prospered in the way promised from 2010, let alone 2019, and the failed promises on levelling up and the health service may put additional issues in the ability for the Conservatives to regain the trust of the public. What I have written may make it seem easier than it is, but in reality it will be a tall order to get support, but, with Keir Starmer not having gained the hearts of the people in a similar way to Blair, there is still an outsider chance that the Conservatives could make an improbable comeback and win, though at current, it seems highly unlikely.