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12 December 2023

Why Labour is expecting a spring election

Keir Starmer wants all shadow cabinet policy to be finished by 8 February.

By Freddie Hayward

The shadow cabinet has been instructed to have all policy for the manifesto finalised by 8 February, I’ve been told. It is the latest sign that Labour is preparing for a spring election.

The first topic raised at the Christmas parties ripping through Westminster this week is the date of the next election. For Labour’s shadow cabinet, the long wait for a chance to reclaim the government could soon be over. If, that is, Labour’s strategists are right. Morgan McSweeney, the party’s campaigns director, announced the 8 February policy deadline in a recent email to the shadow cabinet. “[The February deadline] makes sense if you work backwards from a May election,” one Labour source said.

Keir Starmer’s office and Labour HQ are certain the election will come within six months. The rationale is that Rishi Sunak would not have spent billions of pounds on a National Insurance cut that applies from January if he was planning to go to the country in autumn. Otherwise, the thinking goes, he would have spent it on a more electorally beneficial income-tax cut in April. The stakes for Labour are high. “We won’t have a job if we get this wrong,” one senior aide told me.

There are two reasons, to my mind, why the National Insurance cut doesn’t necessarily mean No 10 is aiming for an election then. First, it is wise to leave the option of a spring one open, even if Sunak really intends to call for an autumn poll. Second, it takes time for voters to feel the impact of tax cuts, so No 10 will want them to be in effect for as long as possible. More fundamentally, few Tory strategists will look at the chaos in their party this week over the Rwanda scheme, or the party’s deficit in the polls, and want to face the electorate.

Regardless, the bulk of Labour’s policy platform will be finalised by 8 February. The shadow cabinet often grumbles that what is seen as “Ed Miliband’s” £28bn green prosperity fund is a black hole for any cash that might be used to solve problems in their patches. The green prosperity plan is Labour’s largest new spending commitment. The central question for the party’s campaign is, given those fiscal constraints, how radical can its policy platform be? The answer to that question will be decided over the next two months.

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[See also: Labour is failing to build a new political consensus]

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