General Election

General Election: Five questions to be answered during the campaign

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer is extremely likely to become PM according to Betfair markets

As the general election campaign gets underway, Paul Krishnamurty analyses five big questions that will dominate over the next seven weeks...

  • Tories on course for worst ever result

  • Will Farage and Corbyn enter the fray?

  • Tactical voting is more relevant than ever

1: Is the only way up for Sunak?

The election announcement couldn't have gone worse for Rishi Sunak. A superficial media obsessed with optics spent all day discussing the PR disaster of getting caught in a torrential downpour without an umbrella, drowned out by the song most associated with the Tories' worst ever election.

Comparisons with 1997 will be frequent throughout this campaign but, be clear, the Tories start in a much worse position. Their current polling average is just 23%. It was 28% at the start of the 1997 campaign. As Tony Blair led Labour to it's biggest win, John Major still won 165 seats. Sunak is rated 68% likely to fare worse, at 1.4840/85 to lose 201 seats or more.

If they end up on 23%, it will be much worse. The 0-49 Conservative Seats band would be very much in play. However one would expect the Tories to improve from that. A key feature of polls during these disastrous couple of years has been 2019 Tory voters moving into the 'dont know' column. Many will surely come home, even if reluctantly. Many defectors are not natural Labour voters. The electorate hasn't moved much to the left if at all. It is just sick of this government.

At this stage, my expectation is that both Labour and the Tories will improve by at least a couple of points as the reality, that this is a two-horse race, hits home. We've seen this in recent general elections.

However we have also seen all sorts of unprecedented electoral outcomes of late. It is also possible that the next seven weeks descend into one long pile-on against the Tories, with Sunak mocked at every turn. In this scenario, defeat is seen as inevitable and Tory supporters become less inclined to bother voting, or free to register a protest vote in favour or somebody else.

2: Will Farage run?

The key dynamic that could bring about a Tory wipeout is whether Nigel Farage will stand for parliament. Returning as Reform leader would give them a huge boost, almost entirely at Tory expense.

I think this early election makes it likelier. Come the autumn, Farage will be in the US, campaigning for Trump. This timing accomodates both. However I am not yet convinced that Farage will stand. He has lost every single election under First Past the Post and will struggle to find a seat where Reform could win. And if he doesn't return, will Reform collapse?

They are currently averaging around 11% in the polls. Without Farage or much mainstream coverage, that number will probably fall. My estimate is to around 8%. They are now the dominant far-right party, usurping the likes of UKIP and BNP. Without Brexit and Boris Johnson on the ticket, the unique circumstances that led those voters to vote Tory in 2019 have disappeared.

3: Will Labour sweep Scotland?

When Labour last won a general election, their tally included 41 seats in Scotland. Today, they have one. The SNP all but wiped them out over the past decade, since the Independence referendum. There is a plausible 'what if' scenario where that referendum and SNP surge is avoided, Ed Miliband becomes PM in 2015 and Brexit never happens.

Times are changing. The SNP are in chaos, mired in sleaze allegations, divided and getting through leaders as quickly as the Tories. This week's Yougov poll implies the SNP will win 40 seats.

The answer will therefore probably be 'Yes'. I remember John Swinney's previous tenure as SNP leader and find it hard to see him making any positive difference over such a short period. The fundamental dynamic is that Scottish voters - overwhelmingly anti-Tory - now have a genuine opportunity to kick them out. It is nothing like 2015.

4: Could Corbyn damage Starmer?

Whilst Starmer seems destined for Number Ten, he will have his awkward issues too. Most notably in Islington North.

This will be music to the ears of many a left-winger. I expect the likes of Owen Jones will pound Islington pavements on Corbyn's behalf.

We have already seen in the local elections that the war in Gaza and Starmer's pro-Israel stance is costing Labour some voters. Add in his determination to make a clean break with the Corbyn years and you have the ingredients of a rebellion and eventually, a breakaway party. That rebellion is currently only relevant in a dozen or so constituencies with large Muslim populations, but a Corbyn candidacy could turbo-charge it.

I give Corbyn at least an even chance of beating Labour. The overwhelmingly left-wing electorate in Islington North might baulk at the idea, if it risked Labour losing. But with all signals pointing to a Labour majority, enough may feel free to vote with their conscience.

The media will absolutely love this race. Perversely, so may Starmer, as he seems determined to signal that his Labour is nothing like the previous version. There are many more constituencies where the likes of Corbyn and Jones are more toxic than popular. Longer-term though, that strategy may backfire.

5: What effect will tactical voting have?

This is the great unknown of every election. Tactical voting was never much of a talking point until 1997, when Labour and Lib Dem votes swapped tactical votes across the country to defeat their common enemy. That sustained dozens of Lib Dem seats through four elections.

It appears from other elections to be very much back in fashion and technology can help it like never before. The effort is led by a very famous celebrity in Carol Vorderman. I can't verify her claims in this video that this effort was responsible for 10% of Tory council losses, but it certainly is making a difference.

This is the scenario which could produce a Tory wipeout. Under our electoral system, winning a seat with less than 40% is hard and much harder when there is a motivated tactical effort to coalesce around the main rival in each seat. The Tories have been consistently losing around half their 2019 vote share. If that trend persists, they are going to struggle to get 40% in many seats at all.

Now read General Election: Why a snap election won't save Rishi Sunak


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