At least 50 nations (making up 2 billion people) will be holding elections in 2024 including for the US President, the European Parliament and in India.
2024 will also be a busy period for public affairs professionals across the UK – and the country more widely – as the nation gears up for its own set of elections.
We know 2nd May will see Metro Mayoral and local elections, but we are also readying ourselves for a General Election, whether it comes in May, November or – at the very latest – the 28th January (though the PM has given his strongest hint yet, when we might expect it).
The first week of 2024 has seen political parties “soft launch” their campaigns in a low-key manner. Below we look at the key talking points and how it sets up the political debates to follow.
Rishi Sunak had a challenging end to the year with revelations he had held secret talks with Dominic Cummings about his return causing a storm with all wings of his party.
He has started the year focusing on two areas that have dominated his premiership to date – immigration and the economy. Sunak has attempted to show progress made on clearing the asylum backlog and has used public interventions and briefing to the press to suggest that tax cuts will form a big part of the next Budget (on the slightly earlier date of the 6th March) and the Party’s offer to voters.
Most significantly, at an event in a youth centre in Mansfield yesterday, the PM gave an extremely strong indication of when he plans to go to the polls, stating his “working assumption” that it will be in the second half of the year. Not only was this a tactic to gazump Keir Starmer’s speech earlier in the day but also a sign of the thinking within Number 10 (and that of campaign chief Isaac Levido) that they need to do more to convince voters before calling the vote – namely demonstrating ‘delivery’ on key policies and closing the gap in the polls.
Given the US Presidential election in early November, the 14th has been circulating as the date to pencil into your diaries – allowing for Party Conferences to take place and the Conservatives to boost activist morale and their financial coffers before the short campaign.
The day before Sunak’s Mansfield visit, the Conservatives were given a reminder of the difficulties they’ll face from Reform UK. At their own 2024 launch, Reform – led by Richard Tice and currently polling at 9% – set out ‘pledges’ aimed squarely at traditional Conservative voters and Brexiteer demographics, including fuel duty cuts and cutting NHS waiting lists.
Reform has the potential to cost Sunak a significant number of votes across key demographics and seats, with Tice aiming to stand a candidate in every constituency. The “Farage factor” remains both Reform’s biggest asset and curse. Without him, it is unlikely they will be able to break through into the mainstream. Furthermore, the party suffers from a slight identity crisis – in Tice, they have a leader who is more naturally a pro-business Thatcherite, whereas their support base in 2019 red wall seats is likely to favour more interventionist economic policies.
For his own part, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also delivered his New Years speech yesterday. The speech made an appeal to undecided voters and those feeling apathetic toward British politics, asking them to have hope and to vote for an alternative form of government in Labour – one of “unity”, “service”, and “change”.
Delivering the speech at the Bristol & Bath Science Park, he set out to inspire voters, rather than persuade them on specific policy points, and focused on the themes of national unity, hope and restoring standards in public life. The Labour leader also promised the British public a “politics which treads a little lighter on all our lives” – an interesting message that shows Starmer presenting himself as the “grown up” against the more “populist” tendencies of the Conservatives in the last five years.
Labour have continued their campaign “soft launch” by hijacking online ad space on the ConHome website focusing on the rising tax burden under successive Conservative Governments.
However, there remain vulnerabilities within the Labour ranks, a book published by Labour MP Jon Cruddas this week has suggested that Starmer “lacks a clear sense of purpose”, whilst the party still faces tough questions around the specific policies and costings on how Labour will achieve their 5 Missions, not least on plans to ramp up “green” investment to £28bn a year.
Ed Davey hit the ground running on the 3rd January in usual Lib Dem fashion – a stunt showcasing a “Tory removal van” confirming the party will be focusing resources and attention on the “Blue Wall” in the south of the country. The party senses a real opportunity to make headway in seats across the south, building on wavering support among traditional Conservative voters nervous at the direction the party has taken in recent times.
As with the Labour leader, Davey faces similar challenges in setting out why voters should turn to the Liberal Democrats beyond electoral convenience. Of more immediate concern for the Liberal Democrats, scrutiny over his time as a business minister with responsibility for the post office, whilst the Horizon scandal was taking place, has blown up.
Whether this ignites and remains a thorn in the side of the party overshadowing its campaigning efforts, or disappears, is yet to be seen.