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June 14th 2024

Pressure Drop – a Political Note from Lodestone Communications Chairman David Wild

As the election campaign gathers pace with manifesto launches and more TV debates, the Conservative Party have abruptly shifted their strategy from one of optimistic future plans – National Service, pension triple lock plus, tax cuts - to ‘Labour need to be stopped’ from forming, as the Daily Mail had it, ‘a one -party socialist state’. This has the look and feel of desperation about it and signals an underlying shift in the internal power dynamics away from Sunak and his people to the Tory party grey suits. There is even gossip that Sunak could be ditched before election day. The Farage factor, the lack of any significant tightening in the polls, and the consequent heavy pressure dropping on the Tories has precipitated this abrupt change.

Labour, in contrast, are just trucking on with a solid campaign of few surprises and although their poll rating is showing signs of topping out and maybe declining slightly, there is no sense of a big enough shift in the polls to necessitate any change of their safety-first strategy.

The fact that Sunak has only visited a handful of seats that don’t currently have a Tory MP is proof that the entire Tory campaign is defensive and about the core vote. Their shift in message shows that even this limited objective is nowhere near being secured and worse that the rise of Farage could plausibly become an existential issue for the Tories post-election as the entire right wing of British politics could start to orbit around Farage as the natural Leader. It is this potential catastrophe that the Tory grey suits have in mind when they talk as if they are already conceding defeat to Labour.


In the News

Launching his “manifesto for wealth creation” in Manchester on Thursday, Keir Starmer put economic growth and stability at the heart of his Party’s mission for government. The 133-page document titled ‘Change’ contained no big policy surprises and is based around the Party’s 5 pledges – largely reflecting their cautious approach and desire not to lose their 20 point lead in the polls. Alongside Starmer’s repeatedly cited commitments to fiscal responsibility and security, Labour’s ambition to renationalise rail, introduce a tranche of new workers' rights through ‘A New Deal for Working People’ and create a National Wealth Fund – all remained in the document. Starmer defended his cautious approach suggesting if you wanted politics "as pantomime I hear Clacton is nice this time of year" - a swipe at Nigel Farage who is standing for Reform UK there.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister launched the Conservative Party manifesto at Silverstone racecourse. It was evident where the Conservatives focus lay, with Sunak referencing his party's proposed tax cuts 88 times, only mentioning Climate Change 8 times and Brexit just twice. With tax and economic policy as the key headliners at the launch, the Tories pledged £17bn worth of tax cuts and £1bn of extra spending. The Prime Minister appeared to promise cuts for almost everyone. Employees will see a further 2p cut in National Insurance, reinforcing the party's ambition of cutting the tax entirely and families will see the income threshold at which child benefit is taxed doubled. The state pension will not see any income tax and stamp duty will be scrapped entirely for people buying a first home worth up to £425,000.

The reaction to the manifesto has been sceptical, with many questioning the plausibility of so many tax cuts. Questions have been raised about whether the welfare reforms and spending cuts will create enough savings needed for the proposed cuts. Naturally, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised the “unfunded” proposals in the manifesto, with Starmer labelling the manifesto a “recipe for chaos”, highlighting its policies as uncosted and full of empty promises.

On Monday, the Liberal Democrats became the first party to release their manifesto. Party leader Sir Ed Davey announced it would be a “manifesto to save the NHS”, enacted primarily by reforming social care and funded by raising levies on banks and reforming Capital Gains Tax. As well as putting social care and the NHS front centre, the Liberal Democrats made clear they aim to champion workers' rights, focus on environmental issues and create more funding for public services through tax rises on the wealthy and major tax avoidance crackdowns. It is becoming clear that the Party are hoping to capitalize on disillusionment with the Tories by running localised campaigns in target seats against them in the southwest and London commuter belt. At the same time, they have challenged Labour, introducing some policies in this manifesto that would not be out of place in one with a red cover, such as the promise to lift the child benefit cap to help tackle child poverty.

In this week of manifestos, the Greens became the third party to set out their plans. On Wednesday, in the backdrop of Sussex Cricket ground in Brighton, the co-leaders, Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay contrasted the previous days Conservative manifesto of tax cuts by promising to raise taxes on the wealthiest 1% in society and on those earning over £50,000 a year - roughly 10% of earners. The revenue from these wealth taxes will be used to fund the nationalisation of water, rail and energy, and significant public spending on health, social care, and the green transition.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the country saw two further leadership debates. The first of which – on Sky News – was a set of 1:1 interviews with Starmer and Sunak held by Beth Rigby followed by questions from the audience. Despite an uncomfortable start for the Labour leader over his previous support for Jeremy Corbyn and his abandonment of the ten pledges he stood on to get his current role – he grew in confidence over questions on taxing private schools, the NHS workforce and public service – all of which seemed to go down well with the crowd in Grimsby. Getting over an awkward moment about him being “boring and stiff”, Starmer yet again succeeded in his central goal: avoiding disaster. Sunak also had a shaky start, telling the audience “We’ve been through a tough time – of course we have – it’s been tough for everyone here watching”. Similarly, his apology for leaving D-Day commemorations early and the suggestion that Junior Doctors were to blame for NHS waiting lists did not go down well. Unlike last week’s debate – which essentially split public opinion equally – a snap YouGov poll from Wednesday night found that 64% found Starmer more convincing.

The second of the debates was a repeat of last Friday’s 7 leader slinging match and contained far fewer memorable moments than Wednesday's event. Whilst SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn performed well – attacking Labour on immigration and on the wider question of the Starmer’s trustworthiness – Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner also came out unbruised - facing up to Nigel Farage more than her Green, Plaid Cymru and SNP opponents.

Polling Update

For the first time ever, this week Reform UK overtook the Conservatives in the polls. According to a YouGov poll released on Thursday, Reform will gain 19% of the vote overtaking the Tories who remained stagnant on 18%. Labour meanwhile remained on 37%. The “crossover” moment was conducted after the Prime Minister launched the Tory election manifesto on Tuesday. The news has come in the same week that Defence Secretary Grant Shapps seemingly admitted that Labour could win a super-majority and Tory MP Dame Andrea Jenkyns put a picture of her and Nigel Farage on a campaign leaflet. Surprise, surprise – her campaign materials contained no references to the Prime Minister or any previous Tory leader. Nigel Farage also admitted this week that he would be willing to lead a Reform-Conservative merged party, but only after the election.

Another worrying piece of research for Rishi Sunak released this week showed that his now infamous D-day no show could have catastrophic consequences electorally. A Tuesday YouGov study found that the gaffe was the second most talked about event on social media last week – only behind the tragic death of TV personality Michael Moseley. Staggeringly, it was mentioned twice as much more than any other General Election related news story.

Lodestone’s General Election Hub predicts a 17-point lead for Labour, with them gaining 215 seats from the Conservatives. It is continually updated with key candidate announcements and polling insights.

Scores on the doors: insights from the campaign trail

With the Prime Minister announcing in an interview with ITV this week that he went through hardships such as not having access to Sky TV as a child, other candidates have pitched in. Adrian Ramsey, the Green Party Co-leader, weighed in with the things he went without as a child – pets.

If you were lucky enough to be in Manchester’s Co-operative Building on Thursday for the Labour manifesto launch, it’s been widely reported that you would’ve heard Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting singing David Bowie's “Changes” to himself (ensuring the spin room heard the not-so-subtle message loud and clear).