UK General Elections 2024: Labour to the top seat?

UK General Elections 2024: Labour to the top seat?

Pre-election situation

2024 is set to be a crucial year in the domestic politics of the UK as the nation anticipates its next general election. With the current parliament reaching its maximum term of 5 years, the UK Prime Minister is mandated to call for the election by December 17, 2024. The potential scenarios include an early election in May 2024, a later one in January 2025, or an autumn 2024 election, widely regarded as the most opportune time.

Contrary to speculations about the Tories (Conservatives) aiming to hold onto power until 2025, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed in a recent interview that the elections will indeed proceed this year, allowing the public to exercise their voting rights. However, the question of who will assume power, constituting the most significant upcoming event in domestic policy, remains uncertain. While it is still early to offer a definitive prognosis on the election outcomes, the prevailing atmosphere in the country, characterized by a growing cost of living crisis, escalating public discontent, and a series of damaging scandals within the ruling party, suggests the potential for a change in government after 14 years in the UK.

As of November 2023, Labour maintains a robust 20-point lead over the ruling Conservative party, as reflected in various prominent polls. Yet, to secure an absolute majority, Labour overall needs to gain at least 124 seats. The current polls paint an encouraging outlook for Labour, projecting a potential 190-seat majority with an anticipated victory in 420 seats. In addition to the overall polling trends, the most recent Ipsos opinion poll on government approval, conducted on December 7, sheds light on voting intentions in November. The data reveals a 46%-support for Labour, marking a 2% increase from October, while the Conservatives trail at 25%, reflecting a 1-point rise from the previous month. Furthermore, favourability ratings for key political figures also offer an interesting overview of the public’s current approval of the party leaders. While Prime Minister Sunak received a 24% favorable rating and a 52% unfavorable rating, Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer garnered a 30% favorable rating and a 42% unfavorable rating. Notably, Politico's "Poll of Polls" mirrors this sentiment, indicating a consistent 44% support for Labour. Importantly, these figures show that Labour’s vote share has remained stable despite numerous attempts by Sunak to reclaim some of its voters.

Additionally, recent by-elections taking place in late October, where Labour secured seats in parliament that were traditionally strongholds of the Conservatives, serve to further underscore the Labour party's increasing potential as a front-runner in national elections. Not to mention, the latest Labour Party conference in Liverpool also highlighted the party's momentum in the business world, with lobbyists and company executives aligning themselves with the current favorite, hinting at a surge in campaign support. Overall, the current polls and opinions favor Labour. Yet, this being the reality it is still crucial for the party not to grow overly complacent about an assured victory at this stage.

Tories left with a chance?

As the upcoming elections are on the horizon, several critical issues will shape the shifting voter landscape. The primary concerns for UK voters encompass the economy, inflation/cost of living, the state of the NHS, and immigration. Despite the current Labour lead on polls, the Tories perfectly understand these key concerns and will seize every opportunity to maneuver around them. However, the current outlook is less than optimistic for them, given recent leadership scandals and the economic turmoil stemming from Liz Truss's ill-fated mini-budget plan, along with the ongoing challenges posed by the cost of living crisis.

Sunak has outlined five key pledges, aiming to halve inflation, foster economic growth, reduce debt as a percentage of GDP, cut NHS waiting lists, and curb small boat crossings in the Channel. Presently, he is making progress only on halving inflation out of his 5 pledges, and as such, his overall trajectory remains uncertain. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's recent Autumn Budget Statement, which unveiled plans to alleviate the tax burden, lower national insurance rates, and provide tax breaks for businesses, appears to have had limited impact on the average voter. Conversely, the release of official migration figures has sparked public anger regarding immigration policies, and setbacks in the Tories' Rwanda Policy have failed to secure much-needed support.

In light of these challenges, some interpret the unexpected appointment of former PM David Cameron as foreign secretary as Sunak's attempt to reassure traditional Tory voters and to have a familiar figure lead the government's pledges to end illegal migration. Sunak's decision to appoint Cameron, symbolizing a more center-right, institutionalist Toryism, can be viewed as a shift in election strategy—moving away from disruptive tactics towards a more defensive protection of the party's seats.

There is a reality that Sunak currently wields the decision-making power to call for an election, and undoubtedly, he will strategically time it to maximize benefits for his party. With more favorable economic forecasts in the long run, he could potentially introduce innovative policies to bolster his pledges. However, as things stand, the Labour Party maintains a substantial lead over the Conservatives, and unless this narrows to an 8-9 point difference, a change in leadership seems inevitable. Yet, even if the gap were to narrow, it would require significant effort to make incremental shifts in national votes that could lead to substantial outcomes. However, even in such a scenario, ending up with a hung parliament makes it challenging to envision how Sunak would forge powerful alliances with other parties to secure a majority.

Labour party challanges

Indeed, Labour appears to leverage the current public appetite for change, benefitting from the internal struggles and controversies surrounding Tory policies. However, despite Labour's apparent electoral advantage, internal struggles might pose a potential threat to the party and the unity of its supporters.

In fact, recent months have witnessed Keir Starmer's efforts to assert authority amid internal party discord, notably regarding the conflict in Gaza. Starmer’s certain statements, such as arguing against a ceasefire to prevent freezing the conflict and emboldening Hamas, as well as suggesting Israel has the right to control essential resources in Gaza, have stirred dissatisfaction among supporters and frustrated center-left voters. While Starmer then has went on the record to clear that he is supporting the Palestinian statehood, overall he was with Sunak on the position set out by Biden calling for the longest time for “humanitarian pause” rather than a ceasefire. It is only recently, on December 18 that with the changing political rhetoric from the U.S., Starmer like Sunak has called for a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza.

Beyond voters, this controversy has sparked significant discord within the party. Already, more than 30 Labour councillors have resigned due to the party's stance on Palestine. Indeed, the November 15 vote, where around 10 Labour frontbenchers supported an immediate ceasefire, was a major blow to party unity and Starmer's efforts to maintain UK unity over the Israel-Hamas war. Subsequent resignations, including Yasmin Qureshi, Paula Barker, and notably Jess Philipps (Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding), occurred among those supporting the amendments, leading to their dismissal by the party.

This to say, the ongoing war threatens to dismantle the party unity that Starmer has worked hard to project. With pro-Palestinian protests continuing and calls for an immediate ceasefire, how Labour navigates within-party divisions and strives to retain its loyal leftist voters remains a critical point to observe. Any wrong moves and further alienations the party could lose more votes than it could imagine. 

Starmer’s Team: Those who are expected to assume power

In Labour's quest for political ascendancy, the effectiveness of Keir Starmer's campaign team, inner circle, and the key figures within his shadow cabinet will be crucial if the public elects Starmer to the highest office. Numerous prominent individuals are poised to play essential roles in Labour's endeavor to secure governance, including Sue Grey, Starmer’s Chief of Staff; Luke Sullivan, Director of Politics; and influential politicians such as Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Peter Mandelson, the former Business Secretary and Chair of the advisory organization Global Counsel.

Regarding its Shadow Cabinet, Starmer has been proactive in recent years to implement some change. Leading up to the election campaign in September 2023, Labour unveiled its long-anticipated cabinet reshuffle. The strategic timing of this reshuffle, just before the Labour Party Conference, is widely seen as the final major restructuring before the general election. The reshuffle gained significant attention and discussion, particularly for the elevation of several Blairites to higher positions.

Labour’s foreign policy objectives

As of the writing of this report, it appears that Labour's foreign policy aligns with the ruling Conservative party on fundamental issues, such as support for Ukraine and efforts to address challenges in Northern Ireland. Both parties, despite internal struggles, maintain a consistent stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict by condemning Hamas and supporting Israel's right to self-defense within the bounds of international law.

However, there are some notable differences as well, particularly concerning Europe, as Labour has declared its intention to actively cultivate stronger alliances and foster an improved relationship with the EU. A key focus lies in reinforcing defense and security cooperation around the EU, with the pursuit of a defense pact—an initiative that was previously rejected during the tenure of former Prime Minister Johnson. In addition to this, Labour’s priorities within the defense-security domain with EU encompass enhanced cybersecurity cooperation, support for EU-led peacekeeping missions in regions such as the Balkans or Somalia, and an overarching commitment to enhance strategic dialogue on a broader scale.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Shadow Defense Secretary John Healey, in one of his interviews, mentioned that Labour currently does not envision joining the European Defense Fund or aligning with any joint procurement initiatives. In the realm of security, the party emphasizes further enhancement of ties, particularly with Germany and France. Indeed, Labour has pledged to signing a fresh defense and security bilateral agreement with Germany within six months of assuming power, along with a revival of the 2010 Lancaster House Agreement with France. This novel approach to defense and security serves as a demonstration, aiming to instil confidence in voters regarding the party's forthcoming plans in the defense area and stands as a departure from the ideas of its former leader, Corbyn, who advocated for the dissolution of alliances such as NATO. Yet, what remains crucial to watch out is how Labour's emphasis on forging stronger partnerships and alliances will unfold if, during its initial term in power, far-right leaders assume control in the upcoming elections in the U.S. and France.

Beyond security cooperation, Labour emphasizes its vision for rebuilding the UK's relationship with Europe through structured dialogue, placing particular emphasis on reinforcing trade collaboration, especially within the framework of the 2025 UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Starmer has made a public commitment that, if elected, his party will actively seek to renegotiate trade aspects of the Brexit deal, albeit with limited changes and no intention to rejoin the single market.

The approaching 2025 review of Johnson's trade deal with the EU introduces an element of intrigue regarding how the EU will react to Labour's proposed reset of terms. The question revolves around whether the EU will be open to new proposals or changes put forth by Labour during this review. Potential challenges may arise in shaping Labour's approach if the EU perceives the review as a mere technical exercise rather than an opportunity for substantive discussion. This is to note the diplomatic considerations that Labour will have to navigate to effectively realize its vision for a recalibrated relationship with the EU.

Another notable aspect of Labour's foreign policy is its dedication to addressing potential new state threats emanating from Iran or Russia. Labour plans to establish a joint FCDO-Home Office State Threats Cell, designed to bring together intelligence and security agencies. This collaborative effort aims to assess state threats, disrupt them, enhance resilience, and foster cooperation with international partners, including the creation of new frameworks to safeguard democracies against misinformation.

Labour has also declared its ambition to position UK as a leader on economic statecraft by fighting dirty money, kleptocracy and corruption, aiming to clean the London Laundromat at home and abroad. Collaborating with the other members of the 5 Eyes alliance, Labour has proposed the idea of establishing a Transatlantic Anti-Corruption Council. This initiative is set to distinguish Labour from the Tories and tighten regulations pertaining to the freezing and seizing of oligarchic assets.

Laslty, it is important to note that Labour also has set a goal on the topic of multilateralism to launch a campaign to reform the UN Security Council particularly in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war to advocate for suspension of the veto in cases of mass atrocities. Another key topic that is likely to be on the Labour’s foreign policy agenda is their commitment to UK’s net zero target and clean energy, underscoring Labour’s commitment to sustainable climate action.

What to expect in Labour policy on South Caucasus and its neighbourhood?

Labour's stance on most regions, including the South Caucasus, remains somewhat ambiguous as the party is currently in the process of defining its vision and objectives. This is further concealed as formal discussions about the party agenda with civil service employees have not yet commenced. However, it is crucial to highlight a few key perspectives or anticipated directions.

In relation to Russia, Starmer has actively distanced himself from Corbyn's vision, particularly in his critique of Britain's role in the Russia-Ukraine war. On December 21, the Labour leader visited UK soldiers stationed in Estonia and emphasized his party's commitment to NATO, expressing readiness to support assistance to Ukraine. Labour is also known to exert significant pressure on the Tory government to disclose its future military aid plans, especially as war fatigue takes hold among Ukraine's Western allies. Consequently, if Labour assumes power, a steadfast commitment to Ukraine is expected. However, whether the new government will commit to allocating 2.5% of GDP to defense remains uncertain. Furthermore, Labour's strong commitment to formulating a plan to freeze and seize Russian assets is another highlight of its policy vis-à-vis Russia. This suggests that more stringent measures may be implemented, specifically targeting the assets of Russian oligarchs in the country.

Concerning Iran, Labour has consistently urged the government, over the past year, to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. Additionally, the party has proposed a new mechanism for proscribing hostile state actors by amending the national security bill, yet the proposal did not garner support from the Tory government. Consequently, if Labour adheres to its promises and stance, one could anticipate a more stringent position on Iran when the party assumes power.

Regarding South Caucasus countries and Turkey, Labour has yet to clearly articulate its agenda, with the expectation that the party will initially prioritize domestic politics and the revitalization of relations with Europe upon assuming power. However, caution is warranted concerning certain Shadow Cabinet members and their close ties with Armenia, particularly those associated with the APPG, as mentioned earlier. It shall be noted that Jessica Morden, the Shadow Minister for Wales and PPS to Keir Starmer, expressed anti-Azerbaijan views while giving a parliamentary speech on the Lachin Corridor. Similarly, Stephen Doughty, the Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development, made remarks on the issue that align with this perspective. These instances underscore a somewhat troubling pro-Armenian inclination within the certain members of Labour Shadow government.


Overall, if the Labour Party effectively manages its internal challenges, demonstrating unity and executing a robust election strategy, there is a high probability that they will assume leadership by the close of 2024. However, the trajectory of key economic, immigration, and healthcare policies, coupled with the outcomes of the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine conflicts, and the reactions of the leading parties, will be crucial factors in determining the extent of the electoral victory and parliamentary seat distribution.

Starmer's top priorities including establishing enhanced security and defense cooperation with the EU, revisiting trade negotiations, building stronger global alliances, and adopting a more stringent stance against corruption, kleptocracy and environment are issues that will shape his first year in power. Nevertheless, the absence of a formulated policy towards the South Caucasus region needs proactive attention, and the election period presents a crucial opportunity to invest in developing relations with key figures in the Labour Party's inner circle.