By Charles Fletcher, Founder and Managing Director of Navigate Politics
With a General Election a year or so away (give or take), the mortgage crisis, back-to-back strikes and rising immigration are all creating a serious headache for the Government.
However, whether they’re simply being too risk-averse, fear alienating voters or are biding their time, Labour give the impression that many pages of their internal policy strategy still read ‘intentionally blank’.
As the long campaign cranks into full gear, we’ve taken a look at the areas Labour will be hoping to capitalise on and build their own narrative as we approach the election…
Cost of Living
Much to the Government’s ire, inflation has remained stubbornly high since the start of the year and, unless a miracle takes place between now and then, the economy will be Labour’s key attack ground at the time of the election. Unlike the situation Boris Johnson inherited in 2019, with food inflation sitting pretty at less than 2% going into the election, Sunak faces an uphill battle to bring food inflation down far enough from the 19.2% it reached in March, to make a real impact on people’s pockets before they go to the polls. Having pinned the first of his five priorities for 2023 on halving inflation by the end of the year, expect to see Labour attack ads focused in on the PM’s record on reducing the cost of living, whether he achieves it or not.
It’s nigh-on impossible to win an election without home-owners on side, and the >6% five year fixed mortgage rates, which have almost doubled since the end of last year, are already hitting home owners hard as many face hundreds of pounds in additional payments each month. With the base rate at 5% – 4.25 percentage points higher than when they went to the polls in 2019 – mortgages are also forcing up rents with little the Government can do but hope the independent Bank of England brings them down ASAP.
Sky-rocketing recent immigration figures should, logically, prove a key battle ground, with net migration to the UK over 50% higher than at the time of the 2019 general election. However voters prioritising the issue don’t currently have a clear place to turn. In a recent YouGov poll, 44% of 2019 Tory voters put ‘stopping people coming to the UK in small boats’ in their top three priorities and the party risks haemorrhaging votes without a swift change in numbers.
However Labour are seen as soft on immigration, and with just 4% of 2019 Labour voters giving the issue the same priority, the party risks alienating its core vote with talk of tougher measures. Expect Labour to remain as tight-lipped as possible, leaving the figures under the Tories to simply speak for themselves. This one will be all about the optics.
Labour and the Tories will go head-to-head on health at the election, with each claiming they are the Party of the NHS. The Tories will have positive stats on staff numbers and investment to use, with doctor and nurse numbers up almost 40% and 16% respectively since 2010, and a further £2.4bn pledged for further recruitment over the next five years. But Labour will have the easier card to play, speaking to the day-to-day experiences the public face when seeking medical treatment. Over seven million people are currently sat on waiting lists for hospital treatment, almost three times as many as a decade ago. Over 40% of people are waiting four hours in A&E, eight times the number a decade ago. Add to that the optics of back-to-back nurses and junior doctors strikes, and it’s an easy picture to paint…
Net Zero pledges
Recent criticism of the Government for watering down environmental pledges in the face of the cost of living crisis play to Labour’s favour amongst its core vote. But it leaves the party with a difficult balancing act to perform, to ensure they don’t leave voters struggling with increased costs behind. Recent polls show clear concerns 2019 Tory voters have with many of the Government’s plans to reach net zero, but with Labour taking an even stronger stance, the party risks alienating both 2019 Tory and Lib Dem voters by either pushing too hard, or not hard enough.
Trust and vision
The fallout from Boris Johnson’s resignation and the findings he knowingly misled parliament have seen trust in the Conservative Party plummet over the last few years. Labour have a treasure trove of quotes, in-fighting and back-stabbing to draw upon come election time. However, whilst the climate is ripe for a Labour landslide and all the potential components are there, Labour still have a fight on their hands to sell Starmer to the public as Prime Minister. Whilst the polls will be giving the party a welcome boost, the build up and expectations feel far closer to 2010 than 1997. A Labour victory may very well be on the cards, but may be won via a reluctant Labour vote, from people who don’t feel they can vote Tory again but still can’t put their finger on what Labour stands for.