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Sun sets on Sunak as polls predict historic Conservative defeat

By Robyn Evans
20 June 2024
Public Affairs
general election 2024

With two weeks to go until voters take to the ballot box – the question is whether the election is already over. Three major opinion polls published yesterday have predicted that the Conservatives are heading for an electoral wipeout, putting Labour on course for a historic majority.

The surveys suggest the party is set to suffer its worst loss in more than a century, with a significant number of senior government ministers losing their seats. A Savanta survey for the Telegraph sees Rishi Sunak losing his Richmond and Northallerton seat to Labour, which would be unprecedented for a serving Prime Minister.

The poll results vary slightly but all say the same thing – the Conservatives are on course for a catastrophic result. Whilst Michael Gove has insisted the party can still “defy the polls” and has vowed the Tories will fight as “we’re not in ‘Fergie time’ yet”, it seems near impossible that Rishi Sunak will be able to turn his party’s fortune around.

It begs the question whether a long election campaign may have backfired on the PM who has already faced criticism from Conservative MPs and activists for calling a July election rather than waiting for October or November. With the Conservatives trailing badly behind Labour in the polls for months, Mr Sunak was clearly hoping that a long campaign would give his party a greater chance at closing the gap.

However, the gruelling six-week campaign has been to the party’s detriment, not only leaving more time for mistakes but more time for Labour, the Lib Dems and Reform UK to gain momentum. Whilst polls tend to narrow closer to the election, Labour’s majority shows no signs of fading as we get closer to polling day. So, what does this mean for the next two weeks of the campaign?

Labour won’t want to risk getting complacent amid the danger of discouraging voter turnout. The party has sought to play down polling forecasts of a landslide, with shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook today telling Times Radio that he took polls “with a pinch of salt”.

However, it leaves the Conservatives in an increasingly desperate position, with some MPs publicly accepting the party’s fate, rather than fighting it. Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has suggested that a Conservative victory was unlikely, whilst Welsh Secretary David TC Davies acknowledged on Wednesday that the polls were pointing to a “large Labour majority”.

In an alternative attempt to downplay these shocking poll results, several senior Tories have shifted to warning of preventing Labour achieving a “supermajority”, with Gove claiming that Labour would use this to “rig the system” to become a “forever government”. This suggests the party is now engaged in damage limitation rather than attempting to win the election.

An inevitable defeat is also impacting internal discussions about who would succeed Mr Sunak after July 4, with some potential contenders looking unlikely to even hold on to their seats, including Grant Shapps, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, and Commons leader Penny Mordaunt.

This all comes amid today’s latest developments on the allegations of betting among Conservative candidates. The Conservatives’ director of campaigning Tony Lee has taken a leave of absence following reports both he and his would-be MP wife Laura Saunders are being investigated by the Gambling Commission.

With the BBC Question Time Leaders’ Special set to take place in a matter of hours, these details could not have come at a better time for Rishi Sunak’s opponents, who will use them to question both his leadership and his party’s integrity in what could be Mr Sunak’s most difficult examination of the election.