Despite recent disgrace and a disappointing legacy, there are reasons to believe that the Conservative Party will remain in power come 2024.
At first glance, the next election should hang over Conservative MPs like GCSEs loom for 15 year-olds. Every day, news of economic upset covers the papers, and many recent polls have shown substantial Labour leads and dim views of both final candidates.
The Tories have been in power for twelve years without any economic growth to show for it, and Boris’ premiership — dogged for more than a year by a loop of incompetent reaction to unnecessary scandal — ended amid public scorn and unseemly infighting. But Sir Keir’s Labour offers only token resistance, the most recent polls have shown an improvement for the Tories, and the British left are unable to form a broad coalition in the mould of the Conservative Party.
While polls taken two years before a General Election can only mean so much, the results aren’t as bad for the Tories as one would expect. Yes, an average of 12 recent polls suggests an apocalyptic loss of 110 seats – whilst YouGov tells us that 42 per cent of respondents see Sunak as ‘out of touch,’ and only 13 per cent list competence amongst Truss’ ‘top three values’.
But a closer look should offer the Tories some reassurance. There appears to be a little improvement, perhaps as the coup chaos recedes. The average of the three most recent polls results in a modest 4 point Labour lead. Compare that with Tony Blair’s lead in 1995, which ranged from 15 to 43.5 points. The gulf is remarkable.
The discrepancy cannot be explained by vast Conservative success in government. It must be said that Tory rule has not been without achievement – the vaccination programme, support for Ukraine, and Corbyn’s defeat to name three.
However, the energy crisis throws into sharp relief their failure to achieve energy security. There has been no economic growth since 2008, which won’t be changed by anti-growth decisions like the cancellation of the Ox-Cam Arc. Unauthorised Channel crossings continue. Crime is strong and punishment is weak. Planning law sustains an immiserating housing shortage, and infrastructure projects are strangled by regulations and legal objections.
Instead, the explanation is to be found in a remarkably poor opposition. Only a quarter of those YouGov recently polled saw Starmer as a Prime Minister in-waiting – even amongst the Labour voters it was less than half. Meanwhile, only two-fifths of Labour voters believe the party has a clear sense of purpose, and fewer than half think it competent. The brutal truth is that Sir Keir has no common touch and no talent for oratory, whilst the wider party boasts a dismal shadow cabinet sworn to implement a forgettable manifesto.
The result is that England has come to feel like a one-party-state wherein political opposition to the Government comes from the media, the courts, the SNP, the EU, the Lords, even Prince Charles — but not Labour. Worse, Starmer’s position seems secure enough to see him through to 2024.
Furthermore, a key electoral asset for the Conservatives is the continued (if not always harmonious) unity between centrist and right-wing elements of the Conservative Party. Though the Tories, Labour, and Lib Dems all compete for swing voters, after the death of UKIP there is no alternative to the Tories on the right – whilst Labour MPs compete for left-wing votes against varying combinations of the Greens, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, and the SNP.
An electoral agreement might ameliorate this, but Labour has ruled out such a pact, and run ‘attack ads’ against the Lib Dems, slating their desire for nuclear disarmament and drug legalisation. Labour lost 45 ‘red wall’ seats in the last election and knows that these Leave-voting, traditional working-class constituencies will not be charmed by an alliance with the bohemian, europhile Liberal Democrats.
Perhaps the biggest blow to an anti-Tory pact is the SNP’s 44 seats in Westminster. Their cooperation would likely come at the cost of a second referendum, which would lose Labour votes across the United Kingdom, and alienate Scottish unionists for the foreseeable future. Put simply, whilst the Conservative Party often struggles with the breadth of its church, the British left are unable to agree upon the same religion.
Much, of course, depends on ‘world events’ and the success or otherwise of the next government’s reaction to them. But from what one can see now, despite voter fatigue and all that has gone wrong, two competent years of governance and a decent campaign will give the Conservative Party a shot at winning a fifth election in a row. Quite astonishingly — and thanks to a dreary opposition and the splintered nature of the British left — victory in 2024 remains within the Tories’ grasp.