With Labour 20 points in front, the Tories will need a remarkable turnaround to win the election

Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer (Jeremy Selwyn)
Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer (Jeremy Selwyn)

There is no doubt the election is Labour’s to lose. For the Conservatives to prevail would require the most remarkable turnaround in modern electoral history.

It will be a long and gruelling campaign. Senior Tories hope that Sir Keir Starmer’s inexperience and his party’s reputation for Left-wing extremism can be exploited. It should not be forgotten that Labour itself has a mountain to climb having suffered a calamitous defeat in 2019. Yet there is no precedent for closing a gap of more than 20 points in the polls during the course of an election. This points to a sizeable majority for Starmer’s party.

Ever since the debacle of the Truss mini-budget in September 2022, which sent mortgage rates for homeowners spiralling, the Conservatives plumbed new lows of electoral unpopularity.

Consequently, a Labour landslide cannot be discounted. The party leads the Tories on every issue, including the decisive electoral battleground of economic competence. The Government is behind even on the question of who is best placed to manage immigration, where the Tories have traditionally been dominant.

Meanwhile, the implosion of the Scottish National Party increases Labour’s chances of making sizeable gains there. It is not implausible that the Conservatives could lose every seat in inner London. And in the South-East, tactical voting threatens to mobilise a powerful pincer movement against them.

Is all hope therefore lost for Rishi Sunak? Conservative strategists believe three critical factors could yet undermine Labour’s prospects. The first is that the Reform vote in Tory/Labour marginals can be effectively squeezed. Tory candidates will insist Labour’s secret agenda is reversing Brexit.

The second is that the recent local election results highlighted fragility in the Labour vote. The party itself might struggle to mobilise supporters because of disquiet over the leadership’s stance on Gaza. Meanwhile, it is claimed that “progressive” voters believe Labour’s offer on the environment lacks the necessary ambition.

Finally, Sunak will cling to the belief that better economic news revives support for the incumbent government. The fall in inflation holds out the prospect of cuts in interest rates. The Tories believe the return of growth will rekindle optimism among a disillusioned electorate.

Yet in truth, Sunak faces an uphill struggle. His party has been in power for almost 15 years, arousing disapproval and cynicism. The choice at the election will be change versus more of the same. As things stand, it is not hard to discern on which side voters will ultimately come down.

Professor Patrick Diamond is director of the Mile End Institute, Queen Mary University of London