UK Politics

Next General Election Betting: The grim schedule awaiting Rishi Sunak

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak's position goes from bad to worse

Rishi Sunak appears to be surviving another week of rebellions but, with election wipeout looming and a grim news cycle to come, Paul Krishnamurty thinks the prime minister's situation could worsen...

  • Clarke revolt prompts muted reaction

  • Polls far worse than 1997 disaster

  • Food import checks could produce carnage

Another week, another round of internal Tory dissent. This time it is Sir Simon Clarke - the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was ennobled in Boris Johnson's resignation honours list, and former No.10 aide Will Dry.

The Rwanda rebellion amounted to nothing with one of the chief rebels, Lee Anderson, already wishing he could have his deputy chairman job back. Should we be taking this one any more seriously?

The betting indicates not. Sunak is rated around 87% likely to be Conservative Leader at the Next Election, at odds of 1.141/7.

You can bet on the month when Sunak will depart as Tory leader in a new Betfair Exchange here.

A Confidence Vote before the election is merely 6.05/1 (17%). The reaction to Clarke's dissent was either muted or condemnatory.

Reading this sort of commentary, one would think all was tickety boo in the Sunak camp. Just a few weeks ago, Tory voices were talking up a reset. More tax cuts to come in the Budget. Yet look at these polls. None of it is working. Quite the reverse.

Tories on course for heavier loss than 1997

As it stands, our betting on the next election firmly indicates a Labour Majority. That outcome is rated 79% likely at odds of 1.261/4 and Labour are a mere 1.132/15 (88%) to win Most Seats.

The Conservatives to Lose 201 or More Seats is a 38% chance at 2.568/5. Grim signals, for sure, but they could even understate the peril facing Sunak.

I am pretty sure this is the lowest point in the history of the Conservative Party. Those of us old enough to remember the 1997 election recall it is as their nadir. 31% share of the vote, 165 seats, a Labour majority of 177. Right now, those numbers look very optimistic.

Of course, things change during general election years. Polls usually narrow. In the last two elections, they were transformed. They did slightly narrow in 1997, but at the equivalent stage - eight or nine months out assuming an autumn election - they were worse.

There were 10 polls during July and August 1996, in which the Tories averaged 29.2%. Their lowest total was 25%. In the latest 10, their average was 24.4%, twice landing on just 20%.

FPTP punishes unpopular parties

This truly is existential threat territory. The nature of our First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system means falling below 30%, let alone 25%, makes you extremely vulnerable. It is very difficult to win a constituency with less than 40%. Especially if there is tactical voting, as seems likelier than at any election since 1997.

Consider the example of the Lib Dems, at their peak. In 2010, a 23% share of the vote earned them just 57 seats. In 2005, 22% earned them 62 seats. And this was a party who focused nearly all their limited resources on those seats and perhaps a dozen or so more, who were famed for their local ground campaigns, and who were highly adept at hoovering up tactical votes from Labour. Their small national share was heavily, efficiently concentrated in the right areas.

Food costs set to soar

Moreover, consider the news coming down the track and whether it might positively or negatively affect the government. Next week, from January 31st, import checks on food from the EU will be introduced. Prices are forecasted to rise steeply, as much as 70%.

Not only will consumers take the hit but the NFU warn fruit and flower growers face an existential threat. The rural vote - an essential part of the Tory base - has been collapsing in recent years. Without it, they are doomed.

Far-right movement will chime with base

One week after this, Sunak's rebels parade at the New Conservatives conference. Top of the bill, Simon Clarke, Liz Truss and Jacob Rees Mogg - who claims such import checks are unnecessary.

These 'New Conservatives' are a carbon copy of the extremist Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the USA. They will be fervent Trump supporters throughout the year. A toxic position among the British electorate, but a fairly popular one among the members and voters whom the Tories are most set on appealing to.

The rhetoric seems sure to appeal to the segment of voters currently backing Reform, GB News pundits and the new right-wing information ecosystem. Sunak's recovery plan relies entirely upon squeezing Reform, yet they are within seven points of the Tories in today's YouGov. Were Nigel Farage to announce he was running, that would probably rise and they could even overtake the Tories.

Double by-election loss to follow

One week after the NatCon conference, Sunak faces another double by-election night. The betting firmly indicates they will lose both Wellingborough and Kingswood. Labour are trading at 1.152/13 (86%) for the former and 1.081/12 (93%) for the latter.

If that double defeat happens, what then? Another round of resignations? The appetite to campaign for the Tories at May's local elections will drop even further. Members may start flocking to Reform.

At some point, one has to think panic will set in among Tory MPs. Based on that historic Lib Dem example, very few are safe. Certainly not Mogg or Clarke.

I still feel there will be a confidence vote this side of the election, even if it is in vain. Before 1997, John Redwood challenged John Major. Nobody gave him a prayer of winning. It was done as a signal. That was Clarke's intention this week, I suspect, and others will be eyeing up the possibility. It may even be that the rebels kept their powder dry over the last few weeks in expectation of the carnage to come.

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