The Only Thing They Fear Is You
Today’s by-election results are un-spinnably terrible for the Conservative Party. Yes, Greg Hands might be bouncing around TV studios putting a brave (courageous, Sir Humphrey might say) face on it. But make no mistake, Tamworth and Mid Beds spell cataclysm for Tory hopes of clawing back a majority at the next General Election.
What do they tell us? Firstly, that the anti-Conservative sentiment the polls suggest is real and translates at the ballot box. Second, that voters in three way marginals understand that Labour is more often than not their best way of defeating the Conservative Party. And third, that Sunak’s surprising decision to run on a ‘change’ platform isn’t washing. At all.
What does this mean for the General Election? Unless something happens to significantly diffuse the mixture of anger and exhaustion that is animating anti-Tory feeling in the electorate then Labour will form the next Government - almost by default.
Of course, sunny optimists at CCHQ will tell you otherwise. Tory voters didn’t defect, they will say, but merely sat on their hands. This is the argument of a drunken sailor on a sinking boat. Yes, it is likely that more Tory voters will show up in a General Election (when the stakes are, of course, higher). But the fact is that polls now consistently demonstrate that even decided Conservative voters do not fear a Labour Government, regard Keir Starmer as basically sensible and (importantly) not Jeremy Corbyn, and share their fellow countrymen’s sense that the Government is a shambles. They are not frightened and - in 2019 - it was as much fear of Labour as it was love of Brexit that drove voters into the dubious arms of Boris Johnson.
So, what should Rishi and Keir do now? Rishi needs to find a way of scaring the pants off the British public. He needs to identify something about Starmer or about his policy platform that will cost people a lot of money, essentially. And it looks as though an imaginary meat tax isn’t going to cut it.
And Keir? Well, Keir needs to make sure that such a frightener doesn’t exist. These results are a proof point for the argument that he and Rachel Reeves have been relentless in prosecuting - the Labour Party must, under no circumstances, give the electorate anything more to worry about.
The other thing that both party leaders need to do is examine closely Lodestone’s new constituency by constituency MRP polling, based on the new seat boundaries and produced in partnership with the pollsters at Survation. This data tells us - seat by seat - how each party is likely to fair, what the local priorities are (for tactical voters of the sort described above) where best to lend your vote in three-way marginals. It will be out next week - watch this space!