Is Labour poised to win power in the 2024 UK General Election?

The next UK General Election has to be before December 2024 – five years after Boris won in December 2019 in the “get Brexit done” election.

Labour has had a consistent and significant poll lead over the Conservative Party since around spring 2021. A Labour win in 2024 seems all but priced in by the markets and many pundits. High inflation, high mortgage rates and low growth surely must have holed the Torie’s credibility on the economy below the water line? And with the “collapse” of the SNP support in Scotland following various scandals around SNP finances, a pathway to power seems to be opening nicely for Labour. Plainly Labour can start measuring up for new curtains in Downing Street, right?

Certainly, business is treating Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer and his Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, as serious contenders for Government. This year’s business day at the Labour Party Annual Conference, in October, in Liverpool, sold out in record time I am told.

And yet the YouGov poll of polls tracker seems to flip between an outright Labour win, and a hung Parliament where Labour is the largest party and would try to form a minority government perhaps with the support of the Lib Dems with a confidence and supply arrangement.

As a Labour supporting optimist who leaves the house carrying an umbrella in the summer, who still bears the trauma of the 1992 General Election night where everyone in my world thought a Labour victory was certain, I think a Labour victory in 2024 is not as likely as many are predicting and the current polls are forecasting.

Why do I think this?

Am I just a negative fatalist desperately trying to manage my own expectations, mental health and hopes?

Partially…. But the Parliamentary arithmetic is brutal. Labour has a huge mountain to climb and starts from a very low base. Currently 45 out of a total 59 MPs in Scotland are SNP. Labour has one. In 1997 Labour won 56 out of the then 72 seats (Scotland had a bigger population then) in Scotland. In 1992 Labour won 49 out 72 seats in Scotland – so starting from a high base as it entered the 1997 General Election campaign.

To win an outright majority in 2024, Labour has to win 123 additional seats across the UK – in a House of Commons of 529 seats. In 1997 Labour had to win 70 seats to secure a majority. In the end Labour gained 132 seats. The number of Labour MPs increased from 196 in 1992 to 328 in 1997.

Today, following the 2019 General Election, Labour has 195 MPs in a House of Commons of 650 (the UK’s population has grown and there have been boundary changes).

In 1997 I knew the finishing post on the key seat list was Gloucester and Dover. If we won them, we were in. I have no idea what it is this time. And the ‘key seat must win list’ is longer in 2024!

Those with long memories and an appreciation of the arc of British history point out Labour only wins when the UK is feeling hopeful. In 1945, Britain was demobilised, used to the big state and wanted to see the homes fit for heroes that failed to materialise after the Great War. In the mid 1960s, we had a burgeoning middle class on the back of the “you’ve never had it so good” decade. In 1997, most UK households felt secure and excited by a new young charismatic Labour Leader – who rather reassuringly looked and sounded like a Tory but with modest left of centre “fair” policy offer.

If it is true elections are about the “economy stupid”, are voters in Britain going to put Labour in charge at time, when the global economic outlook is uncertain and taxes, inflation, and interest rates are at such high levels? Or will voters blame the Tories for this uncertainty and high rates on the back of the naïve Truss / Kwarteng borrow to cut taxes budget?

For most ordinary voters, politics is always the “choice of the lesser of two evils”. They price in that all politicians are human and have affairs and get things wrong and mess up. What they do not like is the hypocrisy of politicians (or indeed others in leadership roles) preaching one thing and doing another. So Partygate is an open wound….

Voters may be fed up with Tory nonsense, incompetence and bungling, but the spotlight is fairly consistently on them at the moment as they are in Government – and have been for 13 years.

In the impending social media 24/7 rolling news general election campaign in 2024, people will be reminded of Labour nonsense too: its gender identity mess; its perceived lack of a visionary and hopeful policy package; its lack of laser focused key seat strategy; its internal divisions and post Corbyn purges; its perceived lack of “oomph”; its perceived “softness” on Brexit; Keir’s lack of charisma and so on. I am told Labour’s media team have lots of ammunition to fire at the Tories in the campaign, but no doubt the Tory press team will have an equal amount to fire at Labour. General Election campaigns do have a way of equalising scrutiny across all Parties – indeed that is the point of them!

And the Labour vote is always softer than the Tories. The Tories have made it easier for the elderly to vote than the youngsters, who must have multiple forms of ID to vote – this is thought to favour the Tory vote. And they have changed many seat boundaries – again this is thought to favour the Tory vote.

So, I fear we are heading for a messy hung Parliament with the Lib Dems being king makers…. at best….

And yet I could be wrong. I often am. Just ask my wife and two sons. And I think deep down I do trust the judgement of the UK electorate; it usually makes the right call despite an imperfect system.

 I&I will have a presence at this year’s Annual Labour Party Conference in October in Liverpool. Prior to 2017 I attended every Labour Party Annual Conference since 1992.

Chris Kelsey is a Director at I&I. He worked for Hugh Bayley (Labour MP for City of York) between 1992 to 1995; Rt Hon Frank Field (Labour MP for Birkenhead and Minister for Welfare Reform) from 1995 to 1998, was Helen Goodman’s election agent in 2017in Bishop Auckland and worked for the Labour Party itself from 2011 to 2014.