Changing PM leaves Tories on track for opposition

by Prof Richard Rose, 30 September 2022

September was a month for big events. Liz Truss took office as prime minister; the death of the Queen led to ten days of mourning; and Kwasi Kwarteng presented the most daring budget in half a century. In the face of these big events, the electorate finally moved after the budget. The Labour Party is now on track to win control of government at the next general election with its biggest majority since 2001.

The September poll average showed some changes in support for the Conservative and Labour parties from the position in August. Labour was up three percent and the Conservatives were down one percent. On this basis, the Electoral Calculus prediction is that Labour's 15 point lead gives it a 86 percent probability of an absolute majority at the next election with the Conservatives taking only 168 seats. Even if this didn't happen there is an 9 percent probability of Labour being the largest party in the House of Commons.

The political significance is clear: however turbulent support for the Conservative government becomes in the months ahead it would be political suicide for Liz Truss to call a general election. As before Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister, the odds are heavily against the Conservatives emerging with a majority in the next election.

Probability of Parliamentary outcomes October 2022

In the absence of a general election, Conservatives hope that the bad news can't last. The are correct: their electoral fortunes are getting worse. The electorate, like the international money market, has responded negatively to Kwasi Kwarteng's budget last Friday. A post-budget Find Out Now/Electoral Calculus poll gives Labour a 17 percent lead in the polls and 381 MPs, and more recent polls have been even worse.

A politically apt comparison is the fate of John Major's government after it devalued the pound in 1992. The Tories lost the subsequent general election, taking only 165 seats. The post-Budget poll predicts the Conservatives are most likely to win 174 seats if a general election were held now. There is a probability of about 18% that the Conservatives would end up with less than one hundred MPs.

The current prospects for the Labour Party show that Sir Keir Starmer does not need the personality of a Tony Blair or the clarity on policy of Margaret Thatcher to become the next British prime minister. All he needs is for the adage to hold: Opposition parties don't win elections, governments lose them.

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.