February 15th, 2024
If opinion polls are to believed, the next election could end the Conservative Party’s 13-year grip on power.
Elliot here! At Datawrapper I work on our visualization code, but in my spare time I enjoy playing armchair political pundit. Here’s my take on the current state of British politics.
Last week, the U.K. government announced they were boosting pensions and making deep and sudden cuts to income tax, crowd-pleasing policies that have fueled speculation that it might call a general election in spring of next year.
If recent opinion polls are to believed, that contest might spell the end of the Conservative Party’s 13-year grip on power. The largest opposition party, Labour, has been leading the polls for the past twelve months, at one point by around 25 percentage points.
In the U.K., general elections don’t have fixed dates and can be called at any time the government wants, up to five years apart. Prime Ministers Teresa May and Boris Johnson both chose to roll the dice and call snap elections in 2017 and 2019 (one was successful, the other less so).
But an imminent vote seems like poor timing for the Conservatives. They haven’t trailed so far behind Labour in the polls since the mid-'90s, shortly before Tony Blair led a landslide victory.
If today’s numbers hold up until the next election, it would result in a huge swing to Labour. Polling firm Electoral Calculus predicts that Labour could end up with 441 seats, wiping out most of the Conservative Party’s parliamentary representation. The smaller parties are unlikely to pick up enough seats for a coalition to be feasible.
If that’s the case, why might the current government call an election in just a few months? Perhaps they believe that things could get worse still for the party if they waited longer, and are hoping that a rapid charm offensive will win back voters. Also, as BBC political editor Chris Mason points out, migrant small boat crossings tend to increase over the summer, and one of the Conservative government’s key pledges is to "stop the boats." It’s also entirely possible they will ride out their current term until the last possible moment.
Anything could happen between now and then. Wild swings in public opinion are not unheard of — just scroll back to the first chart and take note of Labour’s sudden rise in popularity before the 2017 vote. And polls are, of course, far from infallible. Yet a sustained lead like this suggests it will be Labour’s contest to lose.
That’s all for this week! Don’t forget to register to vote if you’re eligible in the U.K. — you might be filling out a ballot sooner rather than later…