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  1. Politics
19 June 2024

Labour is being treated as if it has already won

Expectations of a historic majority create their own momentum, but scrutiny of what Keir Starmer would do in power has been lost.

By Freddie Hayward

The election is two weeks away. And yet commentators and pollsters are finding it increasingly difficult to talk in the hypothetical. Poll after poll showing Labour on course for a historic majority and the Conservatives scrapping with the Lib Dems to be the official opposition has calcified the perception that the result is certain. For many, “if” has become “when”.

The expectation that Labour will win is self-reinforcing. Politics is as much about momentum as it is about policy. Journalists and political opponents who sense weakness will sniff out blood. Look at the media round this morning. The Conservatives’ man, Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary and Sunak ally, had to field questions over whether his boss was a “absolute dud”, as a Tory donor put it yesterday. Stride looked forlorn, worn out and beaten. He was supposed to be heralding inflation’s return to 2 per cent. But, as ever, positive news for the Tories is instantly tarnished by a scandal, infighting or a gaffe. They are like a man trying to stand up in the sea, only to be repeatedly knocked down by the waves.

The reverse is true for Labour. This morning Rachel Reeves was pushed to clarify whether Labour would hold a budget immediately after the election, or wait until the autumn. She is asked these questions because she is probably the person who will make the decision. Which in turn makes Labour look like a government in waiting. It gives the party authority and makes it appear the reliable, less chaotic option.

You can also see this phenomenon in the polling. New research from Survation shows the proportion of voters who think Keir Starmer would make a better prime minister than Sunak is rising. That’s no surprise when he is already treated like one. There’s been more focus on “Starmer the man” in this campaign than on what he would actually do in office. Few are asking similar questions of the Tories because the polls are supposedly making such questions redundant. Instead, the predicted defeat means that Sunak is painted as a lame duck by members of his own party.

The problem with this phenomenon is it minimises the scrutiny of the two alternative manifestos for government. The election race is prioritised over policy; political tactics placed above competing ideas. It’s an election for the strategists, not the visionaries.

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[See also: In the Lib Dem manifesto, Ed Davey has revealed a party remade]

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