Britain headed for hung parliament, says Rishi Sunak (2024)

Britain is on course for a hung parliament, Rishi Sunak said on Sunday night as he urged his MPs to “come together” ahead of the general election.

The Prime Minister branded the local election results, which saw the Conservatives lose almost 500 councillors and the West Midlands mayoralty, “bitterly disappointing”, but seized upon projections that Labour would fall short of a majority if the results were replicated in a general election.

Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, two academics from Nuffield College, Oxford used Thursday’s local election results to estimate what each party would have got nationally.

The Tories were said to have been on 27 per cent of the vote, way down on 40 per cent in 2021. Labour was up, from 30 per cent to 34 per cent, but that meant a lead of just seven points. This comes despite polling that regularly shows the Labour party 20 points ahead of the Conservatives.

Mr Sunak said: “These results suggest we are heading for a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party.”

He added: “Keir Starmer propped up in Downing Street by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Greens would be a disaster for Britain.

“The country doesn’t need more political horse trading, but action. We are the only party that has a plan to deliver on the priorities of the people.”

The academics concluded that while the results suggest Labour may well be the largest party in the House of Commons after the next general election, they could fall short of an overall majority.

The finding was leapt on by the Tories as proof that Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, was yet to seal the deal with the public, despite the declining support for the Conservatives.

A Downing Street source said: “What these local election results show is that Labour are on track for a rainbow coalition of chaos propped up by the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens.

“The results raise serious questions about Sir Keir Starmer’s ability to win a majority at the next general election.

Polls were pointing to hung parliament

“The Labour Party are heading into a general election with no plan and a hung parliament at the end because of it.”

The “coalition of chaos” attack reheats one of the party’s most successful political strategies in the past decade, used to beat Labour in the 2015 election and secure a surprise majority.

Back then Sir Lynton Crosby, the Tories’ Australian elections guru, elevated the idea that Labour, then led by Ed Miliband, could do a deal with the SNP to gain power.

The attack saw posters produced showing a miniature Mr Miliband sitting in the top pocket of Alex Salmond, who had been SNP leader until quitting after the 2014 Scottish independence referendum defeat.

The argument, which came as opinion polls were pointing to a hung parliament, where no political party has overall control, was seen to have convinced some voters late in the campaign to back the Tories.

The Rallings and Thrasher analysis looked at only the local elections when voters are more likely to back minor parties than in a general election. About one in four voters backed a party other than Labour, the Tories or the Liberal Democrats, according to the estimated vote share analysis.

At a general election, where the electorate’s focus is often more on which party leader will become prime minister, smaller parties tend to have their support squeezed.

Not planning alliances with anyone

The analysis also had to assume that there would be no change in results in Scotland since voting on Thursday only happened across England and Wales.

But Labour’s fortunes have soared north of the border in recent years thanks to the turmoil surrounding the SNP, which is about to switch leaders for the second time in 14 months.

Back in the 2019 general election Labour won only a single of the 59 Scottish seats available. At the next election Labour figures think the party could win more than 20 seats.

Yet the tracking of the estimated national vote share does provide insights. In the run-up to Tony Blair’s landline victory in 1997 Labour was more than 20 points ahead on the metric.

The two academics wrote in The Sunday Times: “The overall national equivalent vote equates to a swing of almost 10 percentage points from Tories to Labour since December 2019. Repeated on a uniform swing, this would lead to a hung parliament, with Labour as comfortably the largest party but short of a majority.”

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, told Sky News on Sunday morning that his party was “not planning alliances” with the SNP “or anyone”.

Mr McFadden said: “You can put it to me from now until Christmas and my answer will be the same, we’re going to aim for a majority government, we’re going to meet that mood for change, we’re not planning on any pacts or alliances with anyone and I think – after the results of the last few days – we go into that fight with no complacency, but with a belief and confidence that we’ve seen in the votes that were cast a few days ago.”

Britain headed for hung parliament, says Rishi Sunak (2024)
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