The UK General Election - 4th July 2024

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PLMR Insights: General Election Update Week 2

2 weeks down, 4 weeks (and a day) to go.

Next week we expect the manifestos of the main parties to be released. Though dates have not been confirmed, Labour is scheduled to have its Clause V meeting tomorrow (Friday), where it should confirm its manifesto with trade union representatives, the Scottish and Welsh leaders, and National Executive Committee members. We understand the manifesto will then be published on 13th June, with the Liberal Democrats going first on 10th June. PLMR will be covering the manifestos as they are announced over the next few weeks, providing analysis and insights ahead of polling day on 4th July.

Spotlight 1: Party Updates – Week Two

Conservatives – the ruling party focused on several social policies. First, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced “bold action” on tackling antisocial behaviour, with fly-tippers set to receive points on their driving licences. Secondly, they pledged to amend the Equality Act 2010 to change the definition of sex to “biological sex”, with Kemi Badenoch saying that the party is not “giving instructions” but rather “making it very clear what the law is”.  On immigration, the party said that it would cap the number of visas available to migrants.

Labour – the party launched its campaigns in Wales and Scotland, both of which focused on the “first 6 steps” originally outlined by leader Sir Keir Starmer on 16th May. Announcements included plans to force tech giants to hand over data to bereaved families if a child has died after accessing harmful social media content. Elsewhere, Starmer gave several set-piece speeches outlining Labour’s plans for defence and energy. On defence, he committed to the nuclear deterrent in the party’s Nuclear Triple Lock policy. On energy, he outlined Labour’s plans for GB Energy, committing to investing in “homegrown” power and cutting energy bills.

Liberal Democrats – they have announced a plan to introduce free school meals for all primary school-aged children, funded by a 4% levy on share buybacks which they predicted will raise £1.4 billion. Leader Sir Ed Davey announced the party would increase taxes on tech giants like Amazon or Meta to fund mental health support in schools. In their first explicit social care policy announcement, they pledged to make day-to-day care free for adults, including the elderly and disabled, if it leads the next government. This would be funded through reversing tax cuts for big banks since 2016.

SNP – at the launch of the party’s campaign, leader John Swinney renewed calls for Scottish independence, whilst promising to put Scottish interests first. He also called for Labour to implement an “emergency budget” if it wins power to reverse the effects of austerity. During the Scottish Leaders debate, Swinney refused to offer clarity on the SNP’s position on new oil and gas licences in the North Sea, and stated there needed to be a managed transition to net zero.

Greens – at their campaign launch, the party laid out its priorities, focusing on the NHS, housing, the climate, public services and the quality of water. They also attacked Labour for being “timid”, particularly on climate, an issue that the party bases itself on.

Reform – with Nigel Farage announcing his candidacy in Clacton on Tuesday, the party’s focus has primarily stayed on migration. It announced the Employer Immigration Tax policy, which would impose a 20% National Insurance rate on businesses employing foreign workers. The party claims this will raise £20 billion and incentivise firms to hire British workers.

Spotlight 2: Shifting power? The growing influence of third parties

Whilst this election cycle has largely been focused on the clash between the Conservatives and Labour, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and Reform UK have begun to take some of the headlines – notably for Farage when announcing he would stand in Clacton (and when twice being dunked with milkshakes). This trend looks set to increase as the campaign goes on as the parties begin to climb in the polls, with the most recent YouGov poll putting Reform just 2 points behind the Conservatives, and reports that the Lib Dems look set to gain 48 seats. All three of these parties made significant gains in the local elections in May, and will no doubt be looking to capitalise on this momentum in the General Election.

The Greens have stated they will be targeting four key seats – Brighton Pavilion, Bristol Central, North Herefordshire, and Waveney Valley. This is proving to be a particular problem for Labour, especially Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire, who has been the incumbent MP for Bristol Central since 2015. The Greens’ confidence is up generally because of their success in the local elections in May, where they gained 72 council seats, bringing their total across the country to 812. In the Bristol local elections, they added 10 seats, bringing their total up to 34 seats for the council. Further, they are currently in their strongest polling position ever, with YouGov putting them at 7% nationally. The constituency also has a younger demographic, which is historically the group that the party does best in, with a new poll suggesting that they have overtaken the Conservatives as the most population party for under-50s nationally.

Building on their success from the local elections in May, the Lib Dems’ focus this campaign has been on the ‘Blue Wall’ in southern England. Sir Ed Davey launched the party’s General Election campaign in Surrey, further solidifying the point that the region is a key focus for the Lib Dems. Polls suggest several big-name Conservatives could lose their seats in this area, including Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, while Esher and Walton, and Surrey Heath (the seats once held by Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, both standing down) are also vulnerable, with polling indicating many traditional Conservative voters are switching to the Lib Dems.

Reform is proving a significant thorn in the Conservatives’ side. Farage will be looking to replicate the success that UKIP saw in 2015, where after essentially campaigning on the sole issue of Brexit, the party mobilised nearly 4 million votes and became the third most popular party. Local election results showed the Conservatives are right to fear the impact a surging Reform party will have on its vote share, as whilst Reform failed to gain many tangible seats, the Tories saw their share in the vote severely depleted when a Reform candidate stood in the same ward. The Blackpool by-election was a stark example of this, with the Conservatives only winning 17.5% of the vote – as Reform carved out 16.9% for itself. It leaves the Conservatives vulnerable in so many of the former ‘Red Wall’ seats that drove their majority in 2019, leaving them at risk of being pincered between Reform and Labour on 4th July.

However, whilst these parties all saw substantial success on 2nd May in the locals, whether this will convert to similar success on polling day next month remains to be seen. Local elections are usually used by the public to air their grievances with the major national parties (especially the ruling party), but many of these disgruntled voters may return to their traditional party come crunch time in the General Election. However, with Farage now leading Reform, and the Liberal Democrats and Greens targeting key seats held by the Tories and Labour, it is clear that these smaller parties will certainly be part of the wider election campaign strategy discussion in both of the larger party headquarters.

Showdown: Key takeaways from the first Sunak v Starmer debate

After jousting at a distance for some time, Sunak and Starmer faced each other head-on in Tuesday night’s leaders’ debate on ITV. The leaders were combative, vying for the upper hand, under pressure and up close for the first time. Sunak went on the attack, with the Conservatives still 20 points behind in the polls and the threat of Reform looming large.

Sunak aggressively targeted Labour’s spending plans, claiming they would lead to tax hikes of £2,000 per household, raising this point a total of 13 times. Starmer struggled to counter the charge convincingly, much to the frustration of his staff behind the scenes. In a political landscape where headline-grabbing statements are rife, Starmer’s failure to rebut Sunak’s claims saw some charge him with vagueness – not for the first time.

While Sunak scored points on the tax rhetoric, he faced audience ridicule on his flagship national service policy and claim about reduced NHS waiting times. Their laughter at the Prime Minister was a stark reflection of his current perception among the general public and confirmed his personal poll ratings.

Sunak pressed Starmer on industrial action, a topic Starmer also failed to challenge. On healthcare, Starmer insisted the NHS was “in his DNA” and said he would never use private healthcare, while Sunak was happy to state that he would. On whether they would leave the European Court of Human Rights, Sunak asserted he was prepared to, while Starmer passionately defended the convention. Both received applause from sections of the audience.

Poll of Polls

Labour: 40% | Conservatives: 19% | Reform UK: 17% | Liberal Democrats: 10% | Greens: 7% | SNP: 3%

Whilst we have seen an influx of policy announcements from the Conservatives, they have done little to influence the polling. Indeed the launch of Farage’s campaign on Tuesday has led to an upward surge in Reform’s numbers. The influence of Farage on his party’s success cannot be underestimated.

We have also seen this week several different MRPs, all predicting the share of seats for the parties at the end of the election. There are several different results coming through – but all present a dire picture for the Tories. Electoral Calculus puts the Conservatives on 66 seats, YouGov has them on 140, and More in Common gives them 185 seats. These are partly based on voting intention and result in variations as many of the seats are close. However, they all point to significant losses for the Conservatives, calling into question what upcoming events might influence the end results.

📅 Key Dates 📅

  • 4pm, Friday 7th June: The close of nominations for candidates in the 2024 general election.
  • Mid-June, Date TBC: Manifesto launches – Political parties will release their manifestos usually three weeks before polling day. We can therefore expect this to happen around Monday 10th June (TBC), though it should be noted that the parties co-ordinate so they do not release their manifestos on the same day.
  • Tuesday 18th June: Deadline to register to vote.
  • Thursday 20th June: The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee to announce the Bank Rate, a key economic moment for the campaign.
  • Thursday 4th July: Polling Day
  • Tuesday 9th July: The new Parliament will sit for the first time and new members will be sworn in.
  • Wednesday 17th July: The State Opening of the next Parliament will take place.
  • TBC – summer recess – suggestions that a future Government may look to cut this short and for Parliament to return after the August bank holiday on 26th August.

PLMR Insights Events

Q&A with Rhys Clyne, Associate Director, Institute for Government

Wednesday 19th June, 2.30-3.30pm – PLMR London Office (Church House, Westminster) and online

Rhys works on civil service and wider government reform, including the Institute’s annual Whitehall Monitor. He will share his insights on what a transition to a new government will look like for the civil service, and the key issues on the mechanics of government facing the next Prime Minister.

Q&A with Iain Dale, Political Commentator, LBC 1.15-2.30pm

Wednesday 3rd July, Runner & riders: what to expect after the General Election?

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