The Contest To Lead The Opposition

June 20, 2024
R&WS Research Team
GB Politics | GB Public Figures | Keir Starmer | Nigel Farage | Rishi Sunak | UK General Election 2024 | UK Politics

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With only two weeks to go in the General Election campaign, and with all the polls suggesting a big victory for Labour, attention is increasingly turning not to who will form the next Government, but who will lead the Opposition in the next Parliament.

In ordinary circumstances, such a question would not arise. Since 1922, every Leader of the Opposition has been the leader of either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party.

However, with the polls now showing the Conservative vote collapsing, a scenario in which the Conservatives are forced into third place in seats (behind the Liberal Democrats) and in vote share (behind a surging Reform) is no longer beyond possibility.

With that in mind, what are voters hopes and expectations with regard to the make-up and leadership of the Opposition in the next Parliament?

For starters, voters have little doubt over who will lead the Government after 4 July.

60% of voters now believe Keir Starmer will be the Prime Minister after the General Election, against only 18% who expect Rishi Sunak to still be Prime Minister after the election.

Our recent nationwide poll released on Monday shows the Conservatives and Reform now tied in second place on 18% each. Conservative strategists have reportedly been fearful that Reform will overtake their party and, potentially, win more votes than their party on polling day.

The possibility that Reform could win more votes than the Conservatives splits the electorate.

A plurality of 35% of voters say they would support Reform UK winning the second most votes nationally in the General Election, while 32% would oppose such an outcome.

Among those who voted Conservative in 2019—a group among whom the Conservatives have been haemorrhaging support (particularly to Reform)—a plurality of 44% would support Reform winning the second most votes, more than the Conservative Party, while only 28% would oppose that prospect.

While much of the coverage about the Conservatives’ polling woes has fixated on the threat of Reform overtaking the party into second place in national vote share, an even more dramatic question is now being asked: Could the Liberal Democrats become the official opposition?

Based on recent polling, a pincer-movement against the Conservatives in the south of England between the Liberal Democrats and Reform could, conceivably, see the Liberal Democrats return more MPs to Westminster than the Conservatives, making them the official Opposition to Labour and making Ed Davey the first non-Labour or Conservative Leader of the Opposition since Herbert Asquith of the Liberal Party.

A third (33%) of all voters say they would support the Liberal Democrats winning the second most seats in the General Election, against 29% who would oppose such an outcome.

When voters are asked for the preference as to which party they’d prefer to lead the Opposition, more than one-quarter (27%) pick Reform, putting it ahead of both the Conservatives (22%) and the Liberal Democrats (21%).

Among 2019 Conservative voters, a plurality of 43% say they would prefer the Conservative Party to be the Opposition Party to a Starmer-led Labour Government, although about a third (31%) say they would prefer Reform to lead the Opposition. 

While pluralities of British voters think either Reform (39%) or the Liberal Democrats (31%) would do a good job as the Opposition Party against a Labour Government led by Keir Starmer, 37% believe the Conservative Party would do a bad job as the Opposition Party to a Labour Government.

When asked to judge how well the various party leaders would do as Leader of the Opposition against a Labour Government, 40% think Rishi Sunak would do a bad job, while only 31% think he would do a good job.

Only 22% think Ed Davey would do a good job as Leader of the Opposition, against 24% who think he would do a bad job. A plurality of 37% think he would do neither a good nor a bad job.

A plurality of 39% think Nigel Farage would do a good job as Leader of the Opposition, while a quarter (26%) think he would do a bad job. 

Of other hypothetical Leaders of the Opposition, pluralities think Boris Johnson (41%), Priti Patel (40%), and Suella Braverman (37%), would all do a bad job.

Among 2019 Conservative voters, a majority of 55% think Nigel Farage would do a good job as Leader of the Opposition, the highest figure among this cohort for any of the alternative candidates named, including Boris Johnson (50%) and Rishi Sunak (46%). 

That there is any question about who will lead the next Opposition speaks to the complete collapse in the Conservatives vote and the shambolic campaign the party has run. 

Based on the current trajectory, a third place finish in both votes and seats, which would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago, looms as a very real prospect.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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