UK Parties 2024 General Election

24 May 2024

After a devastating result for the Conservatives in the May 2 English local elections, few expected that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would be in a hurry to call for a national election. But he’s announced it, for July 4. Was he hoping to capitalise on the lowest inflation figure (2.3%) since July 2021, or did he know of unfavourable developments that might further mar his electoral fortunes later on?

He has perhaps considered the massive Post Office IT scandal inquiry a helpful public distraction, given the riveting daily televised grilling of the disgraced former CEO — an ordained Anglican priest who hasn’t managed to hide her blight under a bushel. Either way, the election date has upset many of his MPs, especially those in marginal seats.

There are moves within the party to bring about a vote of no confidence in Sunak within days. This requires the backing of 53 Tory MPs, or one in seven. If successful, it could push him out of the leadership, and the election further into the year.

While local elections have never been reliable predictors of national ones, the masses clearly have no love for the Tories’ generally dismal performance and limitless internecine strife. With five leaders in the last ten years, it’s one of the world’s truly democratic parties. Everyone has a go at being leader. Local voters no doubt had in mind the grimly under-funded National Health Service’s enormous waiting lists, expanding child poverty figures and so much else that can’t be blamed on earlier administrations, since the Conservatives have been at the helm for fourteen tempestuous years.

The decline in social care provisions and assaults on other popular public sector services should be fertile campaign ground for the Labour Party. True, they did well on May 2, gaining 186 more seats — though that figure wasn’t remotely proportionate to the 474 seats that the Conservatives lost. The Liberal Democrats picked up a lot of them, with their 104 gain, pushing the Tories out of second place for the first time in nearly three decades. The Greens, and a number of independents from all points of the Political Compass, also did well.

The question is whether this general election will follow the same pattern. For sure, the Conservatives are heading towards a very sizeable defeat, but the Labour Party has no reason to take a commensurate win for granted. Just as the Reform Party has snatched support from the right of the Conservatives, so the Workers Party GB appeals to much of Labour’s left. The Workers Party’s conservative social values are in tandem with solidly left economics — a winning formula for the working class left who held their noses and shifted to the Tories during the Brexit campaign. The Greens, also to the left of Labour, appeal to social liberals and environmentalists. Both parties have charismatic leaderships that set the right pitch for their social bases. Labour, by contrast, is these days looking like the at-least-not-quite-the-tory-party, exciting neither new voters nor the old guard. Its leader, Sir Keir Starmer, is a Marxist. Not of the Karl school, but in the tradition of Groucho Marx, who famously quipped These are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others. The mercurial Starmer is less popular with the electorate than his party is. His deputy, Angela Rayner, or Manchester’s visionary mayor, Andy Burnham, would have made much more inspiring and authentic Labour leaders.

Starmer has torn up many of his initial pledges, and ruthlessly shifted the party well to the right. His positions on some key issues are barely distinguishable from the Conservatives, most notably on Gaza. The former human rights lawyer has remained silent on the recent findings of the world’s highest court. He has welcomed Natalie Elphicke, MP, defecting improbably from the far right of the Conservatives, while denying the party whip to traditional Labourites Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. Corbyn has long served his north London constituency and from necessity is standing this time as an independent.

The Liberal Democrats are targeting the blue wall seats of the south, where a number of Conservative majorities are no longer safe. On the other hand, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey will not welcome the independent candidacy of former post mistress Yvonne Tracey in his SW London seat. Throughout the campaign, she will be a perpetual reminder of Davey’s less than admirable response to the Post Office IT scandal when he served as Minister of Postal Affairs between 2010 and 2012.

There’s no shortage of interesting seats to watch in this election, which can be expected to include plenty of short-tempered exchanges, and at least a few surprises.

Our chart has been compiled with reference to speeches, manifestos and, where applicable, voting records. Should significant policy changes be announced during the campaign, the chart will be updated accordingly.

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