Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. The Staggers
19 May 2023

Why the Tories can’t take hope from 1991

There are good reasons to think there is no overcoming Labour’s lead this time round.

By Ben Walker

Polls change. In 1991 Labour led the Tories by 15 points, as they do today. That lead then rapidly narrowed and the Tories won a majority in 1992. Today’s Labour lead may also collapse. Mention 1991 to a Tory loyalist and they will write you an excited column in the Telegraph – as Gordon Rayner did this week – about how the Tories can win the next election.

But there are major reasons to doubt this optimism. For one, the Conservatives are out of options at the top. In 1991 the party recovered by getting rid of Thatcher. Today, after the self-immolations of 2022, it is stuck with Rishi Sunak. Even under the calmer leadership of the respected former chancellor, the party trails Labour on the question of who would best manage the economy.

Without changing leader, it would be unprecedented for the Tories to recover by as much as they need to win a fifth term. Yet it would also be unprecedented for Labour to recover in one parliament from its dire 2019 result, and to win a substantial majority.

How can the government win when six in ten people think it’s time for a change? How do you overcome that without a dramatic improvement in public feeling about the fall in living standards, which is unlikely to have been reversed by the time of the election 12 or 18 months from now? And how can the governing party cling on when its brand is the worst rated of them all – worse, one should note, than the Faragist outfit Reform UK.

The nation’s dislike for the Conservative brand is now overwhelming. Sunak himself is not greatly disliked, but he is not – at present – popular enough to overcome his party’s ratings. Contrarianism is alluring, but there is good reason to believe in the consensus narrative, that Labour is heading back to power.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

[See also: Is Keir Starmer a secret conservative?]

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action

Topics in this article : , ,