Good Wednesday Afternoon,

It’s time to take a look at the polls! In this week’s special issue of Magnified, with Election Day tomorrow, we take a look back at how we got to this point.

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Westminster Insights

Westminster Voting Intention (28 June – 2 July):

Labour 41% (-1)
Conservative 22% (+3)
Reform UK 16% (-2)
Liberal Democrat 10% (-1)
Green 6% (+1)
Scottish National Party 3% (–)
Other 2% (–)

Changes +/- 26-27 June

Combined Net Approval Ratings (28 June – 2 July):

Keir Starmer: +9% (-2)
Rishi Sunak: -23% (–)

Changes +/- 21-24 June

With polling day tomorrow, and with as many as 20% of Britons having already cast their ballot by post, the result of the election appears to be set in stone.

Barring a miracle, an industry-wide polling miss, or a last hour ‘October Surprise’ to beat all October surprises, Labour is on course to reclaim power with a sweeping majority after 14 years in Opposition.

In our latest Westminster Voting Intention poll, released yesterday, Labour leads by 19%. The Conservatives are just four points above the lowest ever vote share they have recorded in our polling (a record set in four of our last six polls), having staged a slight recovery at the last minute.

Extraordinarily, though it appears less likely than it did a week ago, a double humiliation for the Conservatives—finishing third behind Reform UK in terms of vote share, and third behind the Liberal Democrats in terms of seats—cannot be ruled out.

The likelihood of a massive Labour win is now so baked-in to the publics’ expectation of the result—70% now expect Labour to form the next Government—that it is easy to become numb to the scale of the change that has occurred in British politics since the last General Election.

Having sunk to their worst result since 1935 in 2019, Labour is now on course to win a massive majority on a swing from the Conservatives likely to be bigger than any seen in a British General Election since before the Second World War

For their part, having won their largest majority since 1987 four and a half years ago, the Conservatives now face the very real possibility of being reduced to less than 100 seats.

How did we come to this point?

Any explanation of how we have arrived where we are now must start with the 2019 General Election.

As we have noted previously in Magnified, the Conservatives won their majority in 2019 on the basis, primarily, of two factors: Brexit and Corbyn. Once both of these factors or, rather, circumstances were gone, the party found it had no agreed upon policy agenda on which to fall back on, save empty sloganeering (with “Levelling Up” being the prime example).

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak now warns the public against “sleepwalking” into a Labour Government, arguing that his opponent’s plans have not been properly scrutinised. 

But he might as well have warned the same in December 2019 with regard to his own party, which the public gave a large majority without the faintest idea of what they would do in power after they achieved their flagship policy the very next month.

This absence of a concrete governing policy agenda was obscured from public view for much of 2020 and 2021 by the immediate crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.

During that period, the Government’s response to the crisis alone determined most of the public’s political leanings. For instance, the Conservatives’ saw their largest ever voting intention lead (21%) in the initial weeks of the first lockdown, and they conceded their lead to Labour for the first time when they stumbled in preventing a second lockdown.

Eventually, the Conservative Government achieved notable success in rolling out its vaccination programme ahead of its European peers. By April of 2021, the Conservatives led the polls by 10 points, and the party swept to victory in the local elections a month later, including a heavy win in the Hartlepool by-election.

Thereafter, the Conservatives’ lead in the polling began to slide.

At first, this decline was due to the realisation, prompted by the emergence of the Delta variant, that the vaccines would not put an end to the spread of the virus, therefore preventing any decisive moment of victory over the pandemic. But secondly—and more profoundly—the country gradually began to realise that the pandemic had left behind a battered, broken Britain in its wake and that the Conservatives had no plan nor urgency to do anything about it. 

By October 2021, the Conservatives led Labour by a narrower three points, having already lost their consistent voting intention lead among women.

And, as the post-pandemic “poly-crisis” emerged unaddressed, then came the scandals. The Owen Patterson lobbying scandal precipitated Labour’s first voting intention lead of 2021. A month later, on 8 December 2021, after the emergence of the ‘Partygate’ scandal the previous day, Labour took a lead it has never relinquished since.

By the end of 2021, much of the public was becoming increasingly disillusioned with both Boris Johnson personally and the Government he led. 

The lack of a distinct governing policy identity was further exposed by the contentious decision in the Spring 2022 budget to go-ahead with a planned increase to National Insurance, feeding a growing perception that the Conservatives were no longer the party of low taxation.

Then, against a backdrop of already spiralling prices due to supply chain issues in the aftermath of the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked a massive surge in energy prices and brought the cost-of-living crisis to another level. 

If Covid was the major crisis of the first two years of the Conservatives’ latest term in office, the cost-of-living crisis has been the overarching crisis of the past two years. 

Fatally for the Conservatives, none of the Prime Ministers who have served in that time—not Boris Johnson with his enthusiastic support for Ukraine; not Liz Truss with her energy price guarantee scheme; not Rishi Sunak with his promise to halve inflation—have convinced the public that they have been taking the right measures to solve this crisis.

Amidst growing dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of the economy, Boris Johnson was forced from office in July 2022.

While the Chris Pincher scandal was the immediate catalyst for Johnson’s resignation, it was—as we argued at the time—the deeper policy failings on areas like the economy and the NHS, as well as wider confusion over what the Conservative Party stood for, that ultimately ended Johnson’s premiership. We had, therefore, warned that merely removing Johnson was not a silver bullet that would save the party.

Nevertheless, Johnson’s resignation did offer the Conservatives a chance to reset and find a new policy direction around which they could start to rally the electorate.

Instead, Liz Truss doomed herself with a mini-budget that declared tax cuts without spending cuts, while adding billions of pounds in public expenditure on the energy price freeze. The meltdown on the bond markets in reaction to the mini budget eventually forced both the Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and then Truss herself from office. 

By then the damage to the Conservatives reputation for economic competence was done. 

In the week before the mini budget was announced, the Conservatives trailed Labour by just 1% when voters were asked which party they trusted the most to manage the economy. One month later, four days before Truss announced her resignation, Labour led on the same metric by 28%, an advantage which, despite narrowing, it has never lost.

Having been passed over by the party membership in the summer leadership election, Rishi Sunak entered Downing Street as Truss’s replacement, promising to “place economic stability and confidence at the heart” of his government’s agenda.

For Sunak, his message upon taking office was that he was the adult who would come in and clean up the mess of the irresponsible economic incompetents who had come before him. But this pitch overlooked the public’s own broader understanding of who was to blame for Britain’s economic malaise.

While it was convenient for Sunak and his supporters to heap all the blame for destroying the Conservatives economic credibility onto Truss and Kwarteng, contemporaneous polls showed that, in fact, just as many voters, if not more, blamed Sunak and Johnson for the state of the UK economy rather than Truss and Kwarteng.

As was the case during his time as Chancellor, the public further found that the more they saw of Sunak in office, the less they liked him.

As Prime Minister, Sunak’s net approval rating has never been higher than it was in the first three weeks he was in office. His rating first entered negative territory in early November 2022, and the trendline has been almost consistently downward ever since, reaching a nadir of -27% after the D-Day debacle and again in our poll of 19-20 June.

As Prime Minister, Sunak has suffered from a schizophrenic approach to policy from the outset, lurching wildly from one set of priorities to the next in the hope of hitting on something that might rebuild the Conservatives shattered 2019 electoral coalition. All the while, his Government has singularly failed to tackle the issues of foremost concern to voters: the economy, the NHS, and immigration. 

Sunak’s last desperate gamble following the disastrous set of local election results, dire poll ratings, and poorer than expected inflation figures was to call an early election, in the forlorn hope that crystallising the choice for the electorate as one between him and Keir Starmer might be enough to bring wayward ex-Conservative voters back into the fold.

That gamble has, as we examined in-depth in our previous email, failed

The campaign itself has been an unmitigated disaster. Despite some slight narrowing, Labour has maintained a wide lead over the Conservatives for the duration of the campaign, going into election day 19% clear against the state of play at the start of the campaign when they led by 22%. 

And although the Conservatives have begun to pull clear of Reform UK into a more comfortable second place in voting intention polling, they continue to be assailed daily by the Conservatives baiter-in-chief Nigel Farage.

Nor has the campaign had the desired effect of seeing a surge of 2019 Conservative voters return home. In our last poll before the election was called, 48% of 2019 Conservatives said they would vote for the party again. 

After a six week campaign in which the party has relentlessly targeted its former voters, the percentage of 2019 Conservatives who now say they will vote for the party stands at a virtually unchanged 46%, having dipped to as low as 35% a week ago.

Defying expectations that Keir Starmer and Labour might collapse under the intense scrutiny of an election campaign, Labour has run a no-risk, ‘ming vase’ strategy.

Sunak’s decision to turn the election into a Presidential-style contest has proven even more misguided than it seemed at the time given his own appalling approval ratings. Indeed, since Rishi Sunak called the election and the choice between Sunak and Starmer as Prime Minister became fixed, Starmer’s advantage over Sunak has only increased, growing from 14% at the start of the campaign to 23% now, having hit a record 25% last week.

In summary, the Labour majority that is likely to be confirmed on Friday morning is the result of both longer-term trends and short-term developments. 

Longer-term, after 14 years in power, the Conservatives are exhausted, completely out of ideas, and weighed down by the accumulated failures of nearly a decade and a half in charge.

It is striking that, when recently asked if the UK is now in a better or a worse state than it was in 2010, the vast majority (57%) say the country is now in a worse state, including 50% of those who voted Conservative in 2019.

Coupled with the short-term factors of a disastrous Conservative election campaign, clear evidence of co-ordinated tactical campaigning between Labour and the Liberal Democrats to maximise the anti-Conservative vote, and a surging Reform UK threatening the party from the right, the Conservatives now face electoral annihilation.

For Keir Starmer, his achievement has been in making Labour a plausible party of Government again. With a deliberately minimalist manifesto, he has given the Conservatives few targets with which to hit him and his party on policy.

But in a few days, the challenges that successive Conservative Governments since 2010 have haplessly grappled with will be his and his Cabinet’s to deal with. The scale of those challenges makes Starmer’s situation as he prepares to enter Downing Street less like that faced by Tony Blair in 1997 and more akin to Clement Attlee in 1945. 

For the long-suffering British public, the hope must be that ‘Get the Tories Out’ does not become the same empty, short-termist governing agenda for Labour as ‘Get Brexit Done’ was for the Conservatives.

R&WS in the Media

Fortnightly we bring you the top stories from the media that have featured our research.

Labour poll lead dips before UK election, but Conservatives still far behind
Reuters | 2 July 2024

What do Labour voters want Starmer to do about Brexit?
UK in a Changing Europe | 2 July 2024

North Carolina conservative activists attempting to flip GOP’s view on early voting in the swing state
New York Post | 1 July 2024

Scottish Tories set for ‘lowest ever’ vote share, election poll finds
The National | 28 June 2024

UK Conservative Party on track for a ‘complete wipeout’
Sky News Australia | 28 June 2024

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