Written by Andrew Clark, Director of Political Insights

Image credit: Liv Martin/Politico

If a week is a long time in politics, the next five weeks could prove to be an eternity for Rishi Sunak.

The decision to call a snap election is a brave move and caught the political world off-guard.

Unfortunately for the PM, it appears his own party were more wrongfooted by his decision than the Opposition.

Since Rishi Sunak called the election last week, more than 30 of his MPs have declared they will not seek re-election, which brings the total of Tory MPs standing down at this election to nearly 80. With more inevitably to follow, the Conservatives are staring down an exodus that could be greater than the one that took place in 1997 ahead of Tony Blair’s landslide Labour victory.

Resignations include Cabinet Ministers like Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom, as well as prominent former Ministers like Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid. The Tories have nearly 200 vacancies to fill before the candidacy deadline in a week’s time. While many of these will be ‘paper candidates’, there are still some critical seats to fill, such as Maidenhead, the seat occupied by former PM Theresa May and Bexleyheath and Crayford where Labour are now favourites to retake the seat. The Conservatives face near wipeout in the capital, with current predictions showing them holding just 3-4 seats, down from 22 in 2019.

The hasty election call may help the Tories in some seats, where they face a possible challenge from Reform. It is unlikely that Reform can get all its candidates in place in time for the fast-approaching deadline, ensuring the conservative vote is funnelled towards the Conservative party rather than split between the two.

First Day Jitters and Own Goals

The election start has been somewhat rocky for the PM. The Number 10 team was unable to find him an umbrella this past Wednesday as he was figuratively, and almost literally, drowned out to the background music of “Things can only get better”.

First Own Goal.

His first major visit was to a brewery in South Wales, which is critical for the Conservatives to have any chance of preventing a Labour majority. Unfortunately, the PM opened his visit by asking a group of Welsh brewers whether they were looking forward to the Upcoming Euro Football tournament.

The stoney silence that met him, shared via a live news feed, was due to the fact Wales missed out on the tournament.

Second Own Goal.

This was followed by a visit to a biscuit factory in the Midlands where the PM took questions from two ‘members’ of the audience. Despite being in hi-vis and giving the impression they were members of staff at the factory, they were in fact both local Tory councillors.

Third Own Goal.

If we’ve learned anything from previous campaigns, authenticity and trust are fundamental to maintaining a positive public image. That means being alert to minor but crucial details that could otherwise jeopardise this – because the media will pick up any mishaps and punish them for it.

Hopefully his visit to the tea factory this coming week goes more smoothly as the PM is rapidly running out of British staples that don’t leave a bitter taste in his mouth.

National Service

The announcement by the PM that he would reintroduce national service was met with a mixed response.

While the principle was welcomed in some quarters, it was universally panned as unworkable in the format proposed, with the policy coming under attack from both the Tory press and former senior figures in the army as being “devised by advisors for the election” rather than a serious pledge.

It is certainly a proposal that is intended to firm up the core Tory vote which is under serious pressure from Reform UK, but will do little to reclaim the middle ground, which the Tories need to win.

The biggest concern for Sunak could be what he does with the pledge if he somehow wins the election.

With a tricky first couple of days, Sunak took a day over the bank holiday to replan, and it looks like a second campaign launch will take place this coming week.

It’s clear the PM remains something of a risk in the public glare and showing him to be relatable is a real challenge for his campaign team.

His attempt to get Labour leader, Keir Starmer, to commit to weekly debates has failed and rather than successfully painting a picture of Starmer running scared, the consensus is that this was an attempt to get the PM off the campaign trail and behind a podium where he is clearly more comfortable.

Where is Labour?

Labour Leader Keir Starmer launched his party’s campaign solidly, though somewhat more lowkey than expected.

There is a definite attempt to manage expectations from Labour and contain the idea that there will be a 1997 style splurge in spending if they win on 4 July.

Starmer’s first major address took place on Monday 27th and was focused on national and border security. There was also a clear attempt to establish Starmer’s modest roots and his success as a self-made man. While not explicit, this will be the first in what will be a sustained strategy of painting the incumbent PM as out of touch and uncomfortable in many ordinary day-to-day activities.

Starmer has travelled the length of the country over the last few days with the Midlands and Scotland being the most prominent in the schedule.

Scotland is critical for Labour. With the SNP in freefall, a route to Labour winning the larger part of the seats in Scotland is possible for the first time since 2015. Labour will be disappointed though that the election comes a few weeks too late, following the resignation of the SNP first minister Humza Yousaf.

The SNP managed to avoid a blood bath in the ensuing leadership contest which has proven fortuitous as a contest between SNP First Minister and his deputy, ultra-conservative Kate Forbes, would have been a gift to Labour.

It’s likely Starmer will face five weeks of questions about possible coalition with the SNP, as Ed Miliband did in 2015, despite ruling it out explicitly this week. The SNP are unlikely to be the king-makers in any event as they grapple with their collapsing popularity in the Scotland and risk haemorrhaging core support to the Scottish independence-supporting, and more socially liberal, Greens.

Labour have started this week on a strong footing, winning the backing of 120 business leaders – a historically Tory focused tactic used in past elections. The letter is the culmination of hard lobbying by Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor, and Starmer as they seek to position Labour as the party on the side of business. Alongside this, the party has confirmed that there would be no income tax or National Insurance increases under a Labour Government.

With just under a week gone in the campaign there is still a long way to go. It remains to be seen whether the Tories can get back on track and Labour are able to continue to be as non-comital and detail light, as they have been so far, for the duration of the campaign.

This week will establish the timeline for the rest of the campaign. With candidate selection resolved and campaign strategies becoming more obvious to both sides, it will be down to who can adapt quickest to the ever-changing nature of a General Election campaign.

Labour will hope for the domestic focus to continue while the Government may be more comfortable dealing with emerging geo-political events and less with defending their record over the last 14 years.

Over the next five weeks, we’ll be providing campaign updates, battleground seat profiles, and information on the emerging dividing lines that will emerge as each party’s manifesto commitments are made public, with a focus on policies that impact the built environment and business more generally. Keep an eye on our website and LinkedIn for updates.

To subscribe to our bespoke built environment-related election newsletter, click here.

To understand what a Labour Government may mean for your business or to discuss how you can best engage with the people in Government no matter what stripe, get in touch with us at politicalinsights@kandaconsulting.co.uk

Stay tuned.

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