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Is Labour on course for election victory?

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

In the aftermath of Labour’s historic election defeat some research has argued Labour had become unelectable and would find it tough to get back into government anytime soon (Sobolewska and Ford 2020; Curtice 2020; Beckett 2020). This blog post seeks to challenge this assumption and will highlight evidence that shows all is not lost for Labour despite the obvious challenges that remain. It will argue Labour can win the election if it can persuade the electorate it can demonstrate competence and economic credibility before the next election is called.

Change in voting intention:

There are encouraging signs for Labour. Firstly, there is a good deal of evidence that the average poll gap between Labour and Conservative has all but disappeared since Starmer took over the Labour leadership. In fact, the latest polls have shown that Labour could now be ahead of the Conservatives in terms of national voting intention, with the latest YouGov, Opinium and Ipsos Mori polls putting Labour around 5 points ahead (Walker 2020). Moreover, the other polls recently published show Labour gaining and either being equal or ahead of their Conservative rivals (Walker 2020. This is quite remarkable considering that usually in a crisis there is a “rally around the flag effect” where the government enjoys a boost in the poll ratings due to a rare outbreak of national unity as people want to come together to support their government in handling the crisis (Hetherington and Nelson 2003).

Change in who would make the Best PM.

Secondly, Labour’s lead might be determined by more than just a protest vote against the government having to currently govern during difficult times. Looking at trends in who would make the best Prime-Minister (PM) the public are warming to the leadership Labour is offering the country. Figure 2 shows us that the lead Boris Johnson had over his Labour rival post-Corbyn’s exit has rapidly decreased whilst Labour’s leadership ratings have steadily increased. These reversing fortunes of the party leaders are significant as past research in electoral behaviour has shown the favourability ratings of the two main party leaders can have a large effect on UK election outcomes (Clarke 2009). Therefore, if Labour is deemed to have a better leader going into the next election this could be a real boost for Labour’s chances, and possibly could be a sign they might be able to win the next election.

A look at party best on Most Important Issue trends:

Thirdly, there is evidence that Labour would be more trusted to handle the current pandemic and health crisis facing the nation. One policy issue the Labour Party has nearly always been more trusted on more than the Conservatives is the matter of the NHS and health care. Since the pandemic, Labour has been reported to be seen as effectively holding the government in their failings on the pandemic response (Ibbetson 2020). Moreover, since the public realised the pandemic was here for the long-term Labour’s perceived ability to manage the nation’s health services has improved, with Labour now having a significant lead over the Conservatives (Ibbetson 2020). Crucially, past research has shown that parties seen to be most able to manage services and government business that most relate to the electorate’s main concerns has often been a critical factor that has enabled a party to win an election (Clarke 2004). Therefore, as the pandemic drags on and no solution is found voters might start to trust Labour again on managing services which heavily impact their biggest concern, which of course currently are matters relating to the pandemic and public health.

Weaknesses on the economy:

Yet, for all the positive indications it should be noted problems Labour faces remain strong, especially amongst key groups Labour must win over. The graph below shows that the Conservatives are more trusted than Labour on the economy. In particular, it shows Labour is struggling to convince specific groups within the electorate that it can be trusted on the economy. These groups can be summarised as older Leave-voting groups who are less likely to have access to higher education. This is particularly worrying for Labour as these are the very groups they lost in the last election and if they cannot get such groups on-side they might not be able to win enough constituencies to eliminate the Conservatives’ large majority.

In conclusion, the next election result is far from certain. This blog has demonstrated how Labour is meeting some of the important fundamentals the party must get right if they are to challenge the Conservatives at the next election. Labour might have selected the right leadership for this parliamentary sitting and could have selected a PM in waiting. However, at the same time, Labour still has a long road to walk if they are to get to the door of 10 Downing Street. They will need to convince the voters they lost in the last election they can get it right on the economy, especially as even when the pandemic is over there will be tough economic times ahead. Only time will tell if Labour can do this, but Labour has cause to be more optimistic than they did six months ago.

James Prentice, 08/11/2020.


Beckett, Andy. 2020. ‘Can Labour Rebuild Its Red Wall without Losing Its Cities? | Andy Beckett’. The Guardian, 12 September 2020, sec. Opinion.

Clarke, Harold D., ed. 2004. Political Choice in Britain. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

———, ed. 2009. Performance Politics and the British Voter. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Curtice, John. 2020. ‘A Return to “Normality” at Last? How the Electoral System Worked in 2019’. Parliamentary Affairs 73 (Supplement_1): 29–47.

Hetherington, Marc J., and Michael Nelson. 2003. ‘Anatomy of a Rally Effect: George W. Bush and the War on Terrorism’. PS: Political Science and Politics 36 (1): 37–42.

Ibbetson, Connor. 2020. ‘Which Political Party Would Be the Best at Handling the National Health Service?’ Polling. YouGov. 30 October 2020.

Sobolewska, Maria K, and Robert Anthony Ford. 2020. Brexitland: Identity, Diversity and the Reshaping of British Politics.

Walker, Ben. 2020. ‘The Latest Polls – Britain Elects’. Britian Elects. 8 November 2020.

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