Patrick O’Flynn Patrick O’Flynn

Why a Labour super-majority is unlikely

Labour Leader Keir Starmer (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

In economics, there is a phenomenon known as ‘automatic stabilisers’, which kick in at the onset of a recession. Without politicians having to do anything, state spending on out-of-work benefits increases while the amount of money taken off private citizens in taxes decreases, thereby preventing the economy from going into freefall. Hence wild fluctuations in GDP are constrained.

We will shortly discover whether there is an automatic stabiliser in the UK electoral system. Most polls are indicating that Labour will go from the 202 seats they won in 2019, to more than 400 at the looming election. One poll this week even indicates that 500+ is on the cards for Keir Starmer’s party. Those same polls show that the Tories are, meanwhile, heading from the 365 seats of 2019 to fewer than 150.

There are multiple signs of the opposition party misreading the public mood.

This enormous switch-around is predicted despite Labour only polling an average 44 per cent vote share. The projections are mainly driven by the catastrophically low Tory poll rating, now averaging just 22 or 23 per cent. While first-past-the-post disproportionately rewards the ‘big two’ parties, once a party’s numbers go below a certain, lower, competitive threshold, it can lose a huge number of seats When we get into an election campaign later this year, I predict voters will have a dawning realisation of Labour mega-landslide. It will lead to a question growing in the minds of the electorate: do they really want a stonking Labour majority? And if not, how can they stop it?

The pre-election pointers suggest that, no, the electorate is not in the mood to hand Labour the kind of total parliamentary dominance that would give Keir Starmer almost unconstrained political freedom for the next half a decade.

Not only does the polling data pick up a marked lack of enthusiasm for the Labour leader or his policy prospectus, in so far as that is known at all, but there are multiple signs of the opposition party misreading the public mood. This past week, we have seen Labour chair Anneliese Dodds launching a bid to inject racial identity politics into the small business sector by prioritising taxpayer-funded support for ethnic minority-owned enterprises. This was followed by shadow health secretary Wes Streeting celebrating the Belgian police closing down access to a conference at which Suella Braverman was a speaker. Streeting’s telling instinctive reaction recalled the way that Labour’s other supposed bright star, the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, came out in support of Alison Rose in the Nigel Farage debanking scandal on grounds that she didn’t like Farage’s politics and that Rose was a successful woman in a male-dominated sector.

Both these incidents involved key Labour figures failing a normal person’s ‘sniff test’ for whether a politician can be trusted to defend right from wrong. Labour’s horrendous and ideologically-driven misreading of the medicalisation of the trans social contagion has also been in the spotlight. I think it will cause further disquiet about the party’s suitability for power. Suddenly, too, there is the prospect of the European Commission wishing to exploit Labour’s coming hegemony to restore a version of free movement between the EU and the UK. Labour has responded by relying on the obviously evasive formula that it currently has ‘no plans’ for this. 

There is every reason to think that further examples of Labour’s basic woke-left weirdness will come to light in the run up to polling day. How, under first-past-the-post, can voters prevent it from securing more than 400 seats? Only by ensuring a non-Labour victory in the kind of target seats the party seems currently set to win. Seats such as Portsmouth North (Conservative majority 15,780) or Redditch (Conservative majority 16,036) come to mind. And in those seats, which candidate has the best chance of stopping Labour? Even polling at 22 per cent nationally, the answer is obviously the incumbent Tory. The Reform party has seen an impressive rise in its ratings, and will no doubt be attracting significant support in seats like these, but nobody currently thinks it can win them.

So unless Reform eclipses the Conservatives in the polls well before the election campaign gets underway, the ‘hold your nose and vote Tory’ factor is likely to make another appearance. It won’t be enough to save the Tories, or to make them the largest party in the next parliament. Indeed, the nose-holders won’t even want that to happen.

But so long as the Tories can reach the start of the campaign in a clear second place in nationwide polls, it surely will be enough to keep Starmer below 400 seats.