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All bets are off as election race enters home straight

GE 2024
By David Hopps
02 July 2024
Public Affairs
general election 2024

At last, we enter the final furlong of what has at times seemed like a never-ending general election race - a race that has been as dull as it has been predictable. The winner has never been in doubt; Starmer has galloped on, cautiously and without really breaking a sweat, whilst Sunak has battled through a gaffe-prone and chaotic campaign as he has ridden the lame Tory horse, saddled with the legacy of 14 years of government.

The only real excitement in the six weeks since Sunak stood on a rainswept Downing Street to fire the starting pistol has been Reform UK's decision to change its rider to Nigel Farage. His (later) entry into the race has livened things up for an otherwise uninspired public (and media) gallery and put him right on the heels of a deflated Sunak, albeit still well behind the front-runner in the red jersey. Ed Davey has added to the contest as his metaphorical horse has performed all manner of press-grabbing stunts, perhaps gaining him more attention than he would otherwise have received. He will come out a winner, even if he finishes third.

Racing analogies aside, the general election is nearly at an end and the outcome is pretty much in the bag before a single vote has been counted. The Labour Party will form the next government, even if Sunak has vowed to fight “till the last moment”. Polling legend, Sir John Curtice, has said today, “There is more chance of lightening striking twice in the same place than Rishi Sunak remaining as prime minister”. This last stretch of the campaign has been about damage limitation for the Conservatives: ensuring that they, at the very least, remain the main party of opposition in Westminster once the results are in.

Throughout this election everyone has been against something, but the majority of the country has simply been against the Tories. Campaign messages from all sides have been uninspiring and the general public ire has been focussed on kicking the Conservatives and picking apart their woeful and often desperate campaign. After 14 years, most people want a change. This has deflected full attention on Starmer and his team, who have been gifted with a multitude of media-distracting stories that have taken the spotlight of scrutiny away from the soon to be party of government.

When he wins the race, Starmer will not ride into Downing Street on Friday in a wave of euphoria. He is the default choice. Probably the only viable choice. He has positioned himself and his party in a place where they are now deemed acceptable to govern and govern they will, although the decisions they’ll have to make are bleak and well documented.

So what of the losers? Expect a strong showing for Reform UK across England, though their lack of constituency infrastructure will mean a minimal haul of seats compared to votes. Farage will almost certainly become an MP this time, making him a vocal thorn in the side of both the new government and the dejected Tory party as it fights desperately to establish its future direction of travel and its relevance (I’m sure the country can’t wait for another leadership contest!) The Lib Dems will also do well, likely regaining their status as the third party in Westminster.

All bets may be off on who is going to win this particular race, but the results will play out for years to come – in the corridors of power, and across our green and pleasant land. Keir Stamer may cross the finish line first, but the real battles – for him and the future of the country – lie ahead.