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2024: The Uninspired General Election?

In the run-up to the polls opening on 4th July, it appears that little has changed since Sunak first made his rain-soaked announcement on 22nd May. His party is 20 points behind in the polls, Labour looks very likely to win and Sunak may soon be out of office. So, has this been one of the most static and uninspired elections of recent years?

Many elections are often more interesting and exciting when viewed in hindsight. But who, aside from the most ardent politicos, can really remember the Blair elections of 2001 or 2005?

Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times is publishing his two final books in the Brexit trilogy (four books, but who's counting) and they have us thinking about how we will see the 2024 election in future years.

In recent elections, campaigns have often focused on a simple policy goal. The 2017 and 2019 elections were both fought (by the Conservatives at least) on the need for a Parliament majority to see the Brexit deal through. 2015 was fought on the impacts (positive or negative) of austerity. 2010 was a major contest with the parties setting out their visions of the future of the UK post-financial crash (with ‘no money left’).

We suspect that the 2024 election will instead go down as one which was both very important but lacking in clear turning points. From a Labour campaign perspective, that is deliberate. Being so far ahead in the polls has meant that the election has always been theirs to lose. A focus on ‘change’ and Starmer not making any significant mistakes has been enough.

Whilst Sunak may wish to suggest that 2024 is about the future, the reality is that it is about the Conservatives’ record since 2010.

That is not to say that nothing has happened. It has been an incident packed campaign; it is just that most of the incidents happened to the Conservatives – D-Day, gambling scandals, the entry of Farage, the initial announcement, the list goes on.

Starmer and Labour have deliberately tried to make the campaign as uneventful as possible. They have, largely, avoided making any significant mistakes. That does not mean that Starmer has sailed through the campaign, far from it. His performance in the first election debate where he failed to reply quickly or forcefully to Sunak’s claims about Labour’s tax plans drew sharp criticism. Similarly, he failed to land many blows in the final debate. But, overall, these hiccups in Labour’s campaigns have been overshadowed by the ills impacting on the Conservatives.

Sunak has valiantly attempted to hit back but Labour has made itself as small a target as possible. Instead, the Conservatives have had to rely on suggesting that Labour will tax everything from pensions through to childcare, and will increase council tax alongside a range of other taxes. So far, that line of attack appears not to have achieved much cut through but may keep the core of the party’s vote from moving away to Reform. Sunak has, in the debates at least, done better than many predicted.

So, the 2024 election has been fought on, well, what exactly? Labour’s Ming vase strategy has resulted in a manifesto with little information, while the Conservatives and Lib Dems have resorted to Project (Tax) Fear and silly stunts, respectively.

The outcome may well be the thing that people remember about this General Election, not the campaign itself. In some ways, that may well suit both the big parties. If successful, Labour wants to get on with governing; if the Conservatives find themselves out of office, then they do not want Sunak’s D-Day mistake to live long in the memory.

Whatever the result on Friday, both parties need to move on as quickly as possible.

Matthew Detzler and Stuart Thomson are both Account Directors at CalComms


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