‘Narrow path to victory’ for Sunak but Labour is on course for ‘quite a big majority’, polling expert
Rishi Sunak has a “narrow path to victory” in next year’s general election but faces a “race against time”, according to a polling expert.
The prime minister has brought the Conservatives “out of the deepest part of the valley” but has “a lot of mountain to climb”, the boss of a political forecasting company has said.
Martin Baxter, CEO of Electoral Calculus, told The Independent that the prime minister has 18 months to “whittle away at Labour’s lead” and he must make progress on his five key pledges.
“If they can get Labour’s lead down to five or less, Labour does not have a majority anymore, and that depends on the government making progress with its delivery,” he added.
While he said “a path to victory is there”, Mr Baxter stressed that it is “pretty narrow”.
His comments came after the Tories faced a drubbing in Mr Sunak’s first test at the ballot box since taking over the party. The party lost 1,064 seats – topping even the most pessimistic forecasts – and lost control of 49 councils.
Labour is now the biggest party in local government after picking up 528 seats and taking control of 22 councils, while the Liberal Democrats saw their best result in decades. The party picked up 407 seats and took control of 12 councils, many of which were in Tory heartlands.
Sir Keir Starmer claimed the results meant Labour was on course for a majority government at the next general election. A Labour MP who contested the 1997 general election, the last time the party won power, told The Independent the results show “we are on the right course”.
However the MP said there is “more work to do” to keep those who voted for the party on Thursday and win over those still to decide.
Polling guru Sir John Curtice said Labour would have a nine point lead over the Conservatives if the entire country voted, which would result in a hung Parliament. That could see Labour forced to rely on the support of Liberal Democrats, SNP and Green Party MPs.
But Mr Baxter told The Independent he thought Labour’s lead was “a bit higher”. “Even a 9 point lead is a Labour majority, and I had in mind quite a big Labour majority,” he added.
Mr Sunak said that despite the Tory wipeout, there was “not a groundswell of support” for Sir Keir’s Labour. And Mr Baxter said there was “a bit of truth” in the prime minister’s assertion.
He said: “Obviously, he is not a massively popular and charismatic figure, like Tony Blair. But on the other hand Labour are 10-15 per cent ahead of the Conservatives in the polls, which under the British electoral system should put them on course for a majority somewhere between very workable and landslide.
“So I don’t think Keir Starmer should be unhappy at the moment.”
Mr Baxter also said Labour’s fortunes at the next general election depend on the level of support for the SNP, which has been thrown into turmoil by an investigation into missing funds.
“If the SNP implodes and Labour recovers the seats it used to take for granted in Scotland it makes their task in the rest of the country easier.”