Backchat: General Election

In response to Patrick O’Flynn’s ‘Sunak’s early election could be the most disastrous political decision in a generation’ in The Telegraph.

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It shouldn’t be this hard to figure out why Rishi Sunak called a General Election when he did. Usually, these decisions have been made for obvious reasons – good performance in the polls, failure to pass crucial legislation, or the reaching of the mandated election deadline – but none of these apply to Sunak; his party is polling shockingly badly with the general public, he had another seven months or so until the deadline to call an election, and the election timing has even led to one of his key pieces of legislation, the ban on smoking, being scrapped. He even caught his own party off-guard, with MP candidates rushing back from holidays to campaign unexpectedly. So, why now?

Patrick O’Flynn is correct in arguing that, from the perspective of the Conservatives, calling the election is a huge mistake. Things went from bad to worse as infamous Conservative nuisance Nigel Farage threw his hat in the ring and took over leadership of Reform UK, and the Conservatives may even lose the far-right voter bloc, alongside the centre-right voters who have flocked to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. If Sunak was aiming to catch Farage out, the gamble has hugely backfired.

If Sunak was aiming to catch Farage out, the gamble has hugely backfired

I don’t agree with O’Flynn that things may have improved for Sunak had he called the election in the autumn – as most people had expected – rather than during the summer. O’Flynn himself notes that there is evidence that Farage was planning to be involved in the election even if it took place in the autumn (contrary to expectations that he’d be busy working with Trump in the US), and the political climate would have probably been largely unchanged in an autumn election compared to a summer one.

So, if things aren’t going to get better for Sunak and he’s stuck leading an unhappy and unpopular government, maybe calling the election now isn’t as irrational as it seems. He has enough money to survive the loss of income from no longer being Prime Minister (and possibly no longer being an MP, if he resigns after the election or sensationally loses his seat), and I doubt that being Prime Minister is worth the effort for him anymore. Maybe he’s planning on going down the Nick Clegg route and becoming a business executive in the United States after leaving politics?

Either way, we’re going to the polls next month, and we’re all the better for it.


In response to Fraser Nelson’s ‘Nigel Farage will do more to hand Labour power than anyone since Tony Blair’ in The Telegraph.

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Fraser Nelson is right to argue in his column for The Telegraph that Nigel Farage’s comeback will only help Labour win and push the Right from power. By picking up support amongst right-wing voters, who typically support Tory policies of lower taxes and reduced immigration, Farage risks splitting the right-wing vote and handing power over to Labour.

This is reflected in polling. Since Reform’s rise last year, Labour support has been unaffected within the region of 40 points, whereas the Conservatives have been left lagging in the twenties. A recent poll put Labour on 40 points, Conservatives on 19 and Reform on 17. When combined, Conservative and Reform support on 36 points comes within a whisker of Labour’s 40, and due to voting trends, would be more than enough to cause a Hung Parliament and could possibly even make the Tories the largest party.

Nelson is right to note that rebuilding from electoral annihilation is not always a given. Although we in the UK believe in electoral cycles with the inevitable passing of power between Labour and Tory, a wipe-out for the incumbent Conservatives in Canada’s 1993 election left the party on just 2 seats and it took the merging of two parties to win again in 2006.

A return to power for the Right is no guarantee

This is no given as some like Richard Tice continue to insist that the Tories “deserve to be smashed and destroyed” and must be prevented from ever governing as a majority again. Moreover, with some estimations that Labour could win close to 450 seats, a merged Reform and Tory party would be futile in comparison to a hugely mandated and supported Labour administration. Although their intention may be to give a kick to the tiring Tories whilst still backing Conservative principles, Farage and Tice would do well to note that a return to power for the Right is no guarantee. Granted, splitting the Right vote and finishing ahead of the Tories would earn Farage a place in history. But also, being responsible for getting a Labour Party into power would surely be the most ironic legacy.


In response to the Bagehot column ‘Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer fight for a poundshop presidency’ in The Economist.

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Why do party leaders bother debating? Last week the country got to see the two leaders that the two big political parties had churned out — Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak — sweat and stutter about each other’s failings, whilst seeming to keep their own potential policy a mystery.

British campaigns were relatively slow to import the American-style televised general election debate. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon debated on telly for the first time in the 1960 election, with the States running something similar every year since. Instead, this side of the pond, we’ve always been more keen on the big interview, unleashing a combative interviewer like Andrew Neil or Jeremy Paxman to systematically tear our politicians to shreds.

In Britain, debates have been more useful in the past. When they were introduced in 2010, itsuited the leaders at the time — they were generally more popular and well known than their parties. Even the leaflets posted through the doors of middle England in 2017 were keen to show they belonged to ‘Theresa May’s party’ rather than the Conservative party — even though, much like our current contenders, Ms May suffered from a stark charisma deficit.

Debates […] suited their leaders at the time

Therefore, instead of relying on the popularity of the leaders, parties should instead seek to show the bright stars that surround their leadership. Sir Keir has the down-to-earth Angela Rayner, and the feisty Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting. Mr Sunak has Penny Mordaunt and Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton. As it is up to them to decide whether to debate, both big parties should either engineer debate appearaces to utilise talent peripheral to their leadership, or evade them altogether, to avoid being trounced by the effective Nigel Farage and surprisingly insurgent Ed Davey.

Both leaders’ strengths are their tight inner circles and usually control over their party message. Unlike under Boris Johnson’s warring inner circle, and Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet’s lukewarm attachment to his policy programme, both parties have a comparatively tighter control over policy. This is not to say there haven’t been gaffes — Abbot-gate and Sunak’s numskulled D-day snub are to name two — but even with these, their inner circles have been steadfast in backing the leader.

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