Labour the big winner from Tory Leadership contest

by Prof Richard Rose, 1 August 2022

Since January opinion polls have given the Labour Party a big enough lead in votes to emerge as the largest party in a general election. However, they have not offered the odds-on likelihood of having a big enough parliamentary majority to put Labour securely in control of government for five years. Instead, there has been a significant possibility of a hung Parliament in which Labour had the most MPs but lacked the majority needed to be sure of winning a vote of confidence if challenged by Opposition parties in the Commons.

The July polls show that there is now an odds-on likelihood that Labour would win a big enough majority to hold power for the full five-year term of the next Parliament. Electoral Calculus reckons that there is a 63 percent probability of Labour winning an absolute majority of MPs. In addition, Labour has a 29 percent probability of emerging with a plurality of seats in the Commons.  

Probability of Parliamentary outcomes August 2022

The risk of a Labour government losing a vote of confidence is limited if it holds 324 seats in a 650-seat House of Commons. As long as Sinn Fein maintains its policy of not taking the seats it wins, Labour could keep office with half a dozen less MPs.  Defeating such a government would require a Conservative Party reduced to 230 MPs to form an unholy alliance of half a dozen political parties to topple Labour in a hung Parliament.   

At the moment there is only a one in twenty chance of the Conservatives winning an absolute majority. That is consistent with events of the past month, in which Conservative Cabinet ministers first expressed no confidence in Boris Johnson as prime minister and have since been slanging each other on television in hopes of immediately being in Downing Street for the remaining half of this Parliament. 

For the Conservatives the best gloss to put on their position is that it could be worse.  A mid-term Opposition lead of nine percentage points is vulnerable to the party in power recovering from its mid-term slump and winning the next general election, as both Tony Blair and David Cameron did. Moreover, Sir Keir Starmer has yet to generate enough personal appeal to convince voters that he can deliver what they want.

Whether Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak becomes prime minister in September, they will have no electoral honeymoon. Instead, the winner will be challenged to gain popular support while in charge of a government held to account for real incomes falling while inflation rises. Concurrently, trade unions will be calling strikes to win higher wages at the cost of losing Labour the support of voters inconvenienced by strikes. When a previous Labour leader, Jim Callaghan faced a similar challenge in autumn, 1978, he at least had the satisfaction of being prime minister during a winter of discontent. 

Richard Rose is Britain's senior psephologist and an expert on party government. His new book 'How Sick is British Democracy?: a Clinical Analysis' is published by Palgrave.