The runners and riders for election 2024 or 2025
The last date for calling a general election is 28 January 2025, therefore, in theory, the Prime Minister could ask the Monarch to dissolve this Parliament, at any time between now and 25 days before 28 January 2025. The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 repealed the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) and made the maximum term of a Parliament (rather than the period between general elections) five years. The Fixed Term Parliament Act was gamed mercilessly by politicians, so its demise in 2022 was probably a mercy rather than an outrage.
So what are the prospects for a general election, and the various political parties?
Any Prime Minister worth his salt will call an election when his prospects of forming the next government are at their brightest. The dilemma for Rishi Sunak is this:
Would it be better if the Government went for an election now, or next spring, in the hope that any likely damage to the ConservativeParty would be minimised, and at least the Party had a chance of bouncing back at a subsequent general election? The problem with that strategy is it closes off all hope for the Conservatives, and the damage might well be severe. It is possible that, by waiting, the wrath of the electorate may subside, and it is possible that a combination of tax cuts and better economic conditions might result in a better outturn for the Conservatives, but it is a gamble.
Would waiting until Autumn 2024 or January 2025 be advantageous to the Conservatives?
The drawbacks to this option is that the economy could take a turn for the worse, the international situation could produce an unforeseen economic shock, and the electorate might lose patience and punish the Conservatives even harder, as they did in 1997.
Picking the right time to go for an election is fraught with risks and imponderables. Harold Wilson called an election in 1970 and lost, Theresa May called an election in 2017, and almost lost, even though the polls were giving the Conservatives a huge lead over Labour. Gordon Brown lost in 2010, partly because he dithered over when to call an election.
In 1945, it had been thought by political commentators that Churchill was a shoe-in for a win. Even Labour thought he would win. We now know that the signs were there for all to see during the war years, but the elite on all sides ignored the evidence before them.
The question being asked is: which of the historical parallels between 1992, when John Major pulled off a surprise victory when all the polls were against the Conservatives, or 1997 when Tony Blair’s New Labour won a landslide victory over the Conservatives, are correct? Then, as now, the Conservatives had suffered defeats in by-elections and in local government. In my view, history hardly ever repeats itself entirely in the same way.
But that said, the general election of 1906 is worthy of consideration. In 1900, the Conservative Party won what was called the ‘Khaki election’ when, in the aftermath of the relief of Mafeking, and a series of victories over the Boers in South Africa, the British army seemed on the verge of total victory. This turned out not to be true and the war dragged on expensively for another two years. Details of the conditions within the concentration camps set up by the British became known and caused disquiet, there was controversy over the 1902 Education Act from non-conformist churches, a split within the Conservative Party over free trade, and a disinterest in Party management by the Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, all caused support for the Conservative Party to drop away. The Liberals, under Campbell-Bannerman, took over.
So what are the parallels between 1906 and 2024/5?
- The Conservative Party was elected on a wave of jingoism in 1900 and 2019, and voter’s remorse afterwards was and has been a factor in the momentum away from the Conservatives.
- In power, the fissiparous Conservatives have been split on trade (Brexit) in 1906 and now.
- Party management and discipline are poor.
- A charismatic leader has failed to lead his Party effectively (Johnson and Balfour).
- The opposition leader was not seen as dynamic and relied more on the Conservative Party falling apart than by dint of his ideas and policies (Campbell -Bannerman and Starmer).
The Labour Party had better hope that in 2024/5 it does not go the way of the Liberal Party in 1906, as never again would the Liberal Party win an outright majority. The Labour Party’s climb to power started in 1906, with an electoral pact with the Liberals, and there is a faint echo of that today where, the by-election at Mid Bedfordshire excepted, Labour or the LibDems have been front runners against the Conservatives, and not as competitors.
What are the prospects for each of the main parties?
The Conservatives: The BBC’s election expert, Professor John Curtice, refers to the echo of the period of 1992-1997 as his reference point or historical example. Clearly, the Conservative Party, will have to calm down and support its leader. A cabinet reshuffle might help by removing dissidents, or might make things worse if the Party turns in on itself by ceasing to be a balanced ticket of moderation and radicalism.
It appears that the Party is hoping for tax cuts of some sort in the next budget. Certainly, there has been talk about cutting stamp duty and the big six housebuilders are reporting lower numbers of completions for this year. One can hardly go to the country when the biggest asset most people own (if they are lucky) is declining in value. One of the major promises made by the Conservatives in 2019 was to increase the numbers of houses built. Cuts in stamp duty and some form of ‘right to buy’ might be on the PM’s agenda for change.
The Labour Party: has an enduring habit of failing in the last stages of an election period as happened in 1992. The country is prepared to listen to what they have to say after years of being ignored or discounted. They must now show that they are an alternative government in waiting.
The Liberal Democrats: may not form the next government, but they do have a growing local government base, especially in their former heartland of the west country. It is here where they may find success in ousting Tory incumbents.
The Green Party: All small parties suffer under ‘first past the post’ elections, but the Green Party is beginning to have local government heartlands. Brighton, possibly Folkestone & Hythe and Mid Suffolk, could return Green MPs for the first time in some cases.
Reform Party: This the Bully XL of the right, snapping at the heels of the Conservatives. In Richard Tice, they have a Mr Angry of a leader, who is not attractive to voters but, if Nigel Farage was to take a hand in their campaign, something might happen. He may be a buffoon, but his matey, beer-drinking ‘man of the people’ act, does strike a chord with older social conservatives. To forestall that possibility, it is not inconceivable for the Tories to throw him the barony he thought he might get from Boris Johnson.
In Kent, the times, they may be ‘a changing’. Kent, to the Conservatives, is like the Bible belt to the Republican Party in the USA. It has always been an inviolable home ground for centuries, not just decades. Conservative electoral victory relied on the votes being weighed in their favour in Kent. Even in landslide years for Labour in 1945, 1966 and 1997, Kent remained a Tory heartland but, in recent local government elections and the redrawing of constituency boundaries, that may no longer hold true. Labour could conceivably take a seat in Thanet, as well as Dover, Gravesham, Canterbury and Medway. The LibDems might capture Tunbridge Wells, and others in the Weald. Constituencies such as Faversham or Ashford may fall if the Conservatives continue to haemorrhage support and, who knows, from little acorns a Green MP for Folkestone might happen.
In 2019, people wanted Brexit done, one way or another. They did not like the cut of Jeremy Corbyn’s jib, but were prepared to hold their noses and vote in a Boris Johnson government. The forebodings many had about Johnson proved to be considerably understated, and the damage he and Liz Truss have wrought on their Party and country will have consequences for the Conservatives.
Starmer may not have charisma, but perhaps in broken Britain, boring competence may seem a better option than charismatic nincompoopery.