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What a difference a year and a bit makes.
When our editor looked at our panellists’ expectations for the next election back in December 2021, he found 78 per cent of respondents expecting some sort of Conservative-led government after the next election.
“Expectation of a Conservative-led Government after the next election is at its lowest this year”, was the gloomy headline.
In April 2022, it was my turn to check in on how things were going. “Expectation of a Conservative-led Government at its lowest in 18 months”, tolled the title. The total expecting a Tory-led government had fallen to just 61 per cent; those expecting an overall majority was down below 50 per cent.
That June, William Atkinson took up the baton and found optimism fading fast: “Less than half of our panel now expect a Conservative-led Government at the next election.”
But it was only just less than half: 49.5 per cent of respondents still thought there would be a Conservative prime minister, either with a Commons majority or some sort of alternative arrangement.
Since then, expectations of any sort of Tory-led government in the next parliament have collapsed.
More than 53 per cent of our panel now expect an outright Labour majority; another 11 per cent a minority Labour government, and yet another 16 per cent or so a Labour-led coalition.
That’s over eight in ten panellists anticipating Sir Keir Starmer becoming our next prime minister.
Against that, a doughty ten per cent still think there will be an overall Conservative majority, seven per cent a minority Tory government, and three per cent a Conservative-led coalition.
(Given the Democratic Unionists are the Government’s only plausible partners, perhaps these are the true believers in the Windsor Framework.)
To give us some idea of how this unhappy reversal came about, here are the percentage results from all our surveys since Atkinson’s piece; combined expectation of a Conservative-led government first, expectation of a majority in brackets, rounded to the nearest whole number:
A general downward trend, with a sharp and entirely predictable inflection point in October when the Truss Government was coming undone.
Given the current state of the polls, this pessimism is not especially surprising.
But those earlier headlines are a useful reminder of how extraordinary this really is. At the last election, the Conservatives won an overall majority of 80. The morning after it, you could probably have counted the number of people who expected Labour to be back, with an overall majority, in one parliament on the fingers of your third hand.
And yet, here we are. Rishi Sunak has, as the media have it, steadied the ship. But it has taken on an awful lot of water – and faith amongst the membership that it can be saved is sinking month by month.