Rishi Sunak gaining poll support but losing MPs

by Prof Richard Rose, 1 December 2022

In the short time that Rishi Sunak has been prime minister he has seen poll support for the Conservatives reverse the year-long decline that the party had been suffering under his two predecessors. This reduces the gap between the Tories and Labour by six percentage points and increases the number of seats the Conservatives would win by 76.

Because Sunak inherited a disastrous electoral position from Liz Truss, the party's improved showing is best described as less disastrous. The party's current 27.2 percent voter support is lower than its showing in every election since 1900. The predicted Conservative return of 134 MPs would be the worst defeat of any governing party since 1931.

In anticipation of an electoral rout, dozens of Conservative MPs are already announcing that they will not stand for re-election. MPs in their 60s are describing their departure as retirement. Others have lost their seat by the action of the boundary commissioners re-drawing constituency boundaries so that parts of their existing constituency are scattered among constituencies that already have a Conservative MP in place.

Probability of Parliamentary outcomes December 2022

The most worrisome sign for the party is that an energetic crop of young MPs have announced they will not stand for re-election. For example, 29-year-old Dehenna Davidson will not contest Bishop Auckland, which she won with a 17 percent majority over Labour in 2019 and 34-year-old Will Wragg is standing down at in Hazel Grove, held by a 10 percent majority over the Liberal Democrats three years ago.

By signalling their departure now, MPs gain a head start in building a new career over the hundreds of Tory MPs who will be made unemployed by the electorate in 2024. Well over half the Tory MPs who withstand the ravages of a big swing to Labour and constituency redistribution can count on gaining a a post in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet. They are also assured of frustration by a Labour government whose only effective opposition would come from within its own ranks.

A by-product of the Conservative recovery is that it reduces the predicted number of Labour MPs to 425, more than double the number Labour won three years ago.

So-called third party MPs have little to fear or hope for in the 2024 election. On current poll ratings, they are predicted to bring their total number up to 91 MPs, with the Liberal Democrats winning six more seats and the Scottish Nationalists adding two. The irony of a change in government is that third parties that have spent fourteen years on the opposition benches attacking a Conservative government would then spend five years sitting in opposition alongside Conservative MPs criticizing the actions of a Labour government.

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.