The view to 2024: What next for British politics?

The political year of 2023 will be remembered by many as a period of steady transition. Slowly the psychodramatic chaos of 2022, especially of its latter stages, has quieted: there has been no market meltdown, no Conservative coup; the tailspin, seemingly, has eased.

Now, that is not to suggest that Rishi Sunak has been a barnstorming success as prime minister — nor does it imply that the Conservative Party’s regicidal instincts, after a year’s detox, have entirely dulled. Brutal realities belie Sunak’s ostensible successes; his recent tumult over the Rwanda deportation plan is a clear case in point.

Moreover, that some lavish the prime minister with praise for returning the UK to some semblance of political normality might, in fact, be highly illustrative of the depths the Conservative Party plunged in 2022 — and, consequently, how low our expectations for a prime minister hailing from said political ilk have plummeted in turn. 

And, crucially, for the prime minister’s marginal, hard-fought gains on matters mundanity, no measurable mark on the Labour Party’s polling advantage has been recorded. Simply put, if 2023 was the year Britons got to know Rishi Sunak, they have not liked what they have seen.

Earlier this month, the prime minister recorded his lowest-ever net favourability score among the public of -49. It is some distance below his rating upon first entering No 10 as PM — oh, how Rishi Sunak wishes this ungrateful nation still viewed him with a net favourability of -9. Crucially, this dire reality seems to be taking a toll on the prime minister and his beleaguered No 10 operation, if recent tetchiness and myriad relaunches are anything to go by.

Indeed, at first slowly but now in earnest, Sunak has given in to those siren voices agitating for a more openly antagonistic politics. Almost daily, Sunak undertakes to desperately goad his opposite number, Labour leader Keir Starmer, by weaponising wedge issues, consciously coarsening political debate and laying “traps”. But his attempts to recast the political landscape in the Conservative Party’s favour have frequently backfired.

Week-in-Review: From Greek marbles to net zero, Sunak’s embrace of ‘wedge politics’ is taking a toll

Simply put, Sunak thought his delivery-oriented, doughty professionalism would quiet the Conservative death knell. But as we head into an election year, it tolls louder and more menacingly than ever.

Manifestly, if the Conservative Party is to avoid a historic electoral routing in 2024, the prime minister needs to up his game. So how many more relaunches are being readied? Will a more politically active prime minister aid the Conservative Party or further condemn it to the electoral doldrums? Will Keir Starmer’s inexorable march to No 10 be thwarted against the odds?‘s crystal ball tells all…

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda tumult cont.

Having stared down the threat from his “five families” flank over the Rwanda bill at its second commons reading, Rishi Sunak can expect these assorted Conservative Party also-rans to return to the fray pretty quickly in the new year. 

Indeed, although the Rwanda Safety (Asylum and Immigration) Bill attracted only 29 Conservative rebel abstentions, the speeches in the lead-up to the vote hinted at a slew of hostile amendments to come. Take Robert Jenrick’s stinging intervention, the first since his resignation as immigration minister: “This bill could be so much better. Let’s make it better. Let’s make it work”, he told MPs earlier this month. 

Rwanda bill: Robert Jenrick dismisses ‘contested notions of international law’

One such amendment looks set to flow from the pen of Sir Bill Cash, the Conservative veteran who led the European Research Group’s “star chamber” on the topic. Chairman Mark Francois, the nominal leader of the “five families” quintet, wants the fourth estate to refer to this intervention as the “Cash amendment”. The parallels to battles of Brexit yore will deepen along these lines. 

From here will flow further reproofs from recent government flotsam and jetsam — respectively Jenrick and former home secretary Suella Braverman. The prospect of a coming Conservative leadership contest later in 2024/25, as contenders and Tory crown pretenders posture and position, will feature centrally throughout.  

Week-in-Review: The political inanity of Rishi Sunak vs the ‘five families’

Also worth watching at the Rwanda bill’s committee stage will be the forthcoming amendment being talked up by former cabinet minister and one nation doyen Sir Robert Buckland. An amendment to ensure the proposed legislation is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights “could get support from across the House, unlike amendments that may be tabled by the right”, Buckland told The Guardian newspaper earlier this month. 

The former justice secretary’s amendment could also prove far more tricky for Sunak than anything emanating from his party right — especially if it is backed by a large section of the 106-strong One Nation grouping; as well as, tacitly or overtly, influential moderate cabinet members (such as Alex Chalk and Victoria Prentis); and perhaps some pragmatic opposition MPs. 

Squeezed between hostile factions, expect Rishi Sunak to appear increasingly unmoored within his party in the first part of 2024 — as the activism of both Rwanda minimalist and maximalist cliques narrow his room for manoeuvre.

Ultimately, the PM’s ideal scenario would see him skim votes from both sets of Rwanda rebels to cohere a narrow commons majority. But the bill, even in this best-case scenario (which, of course, have so often evaded Sunak), would be sent to the Lords where it will be neutered and amended beyond recognition by peers. 

Significantly, with likely less than a year to an election, we have now entered the final session of parliament. It means the Lords is no longer merely a revising or delaying chamber. 

Rather, given peers can block legislation for up to a year under the terms of the Parliament Act 1949, a majority in the House of Lords now has an effective veto on government legislation. And it seems seriously unlikely that Sunak will win the significant majority necessary in the commons to leverage the will of MPs over that of the UK’s unelected legislators.

Furthermore, if the bill does eventually pass, ministers can expect to face further legal challenges, both on the legislation and the accompanying UK-Rwanda Treaty. Such analysis underpins the view that the Rwanda deportation plan will be contested — legally, politically and morally — all the way up to a general election. 

Sunak’s choice: when will the PM call a general election?

Of course, at any juncture during the above-described process, there will be the option for the prime minister to call off the lawyers and reach for the lectern. An address to the nation, after months of parliamentary and legal wrangling, would see the PM collect the Rwanda Plan’s acquired antagonists into one amorphous, will-of-the-people-thwarting coalition. 

How Rishi Sunak could fight a ‘stop the boats election’

“Who runs Britain?”, the prime minister would ask as he identifies his opponents, by name or by insinuation, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lords, “lefty lawyers”, the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, charities, campaign groups, etc.

Rishi Sunak confirmed earlier this month to assembled lobby journalists in No 10 that an election “will” take place next year in 2024. Still, the contours of this election campaign to come remain uncertain. And while a “stop the boats” election is still the subject of much theorising in SW1, it would provide but an imperfect solution to the prime minister’s Rwanda deportation plan dilemma.

In fact, the prime minister, who has spent much of his time in No 10 extolling his status as a problem solver, would likely loath to call an election before he has met his promise to get flights to Rwanda off the ground. The act of staking the future of the party and the careers of a horde of MPs on an optimistic hunch would, equally, be viewed dimly by moderates in the party. And, in any case, the last time Britain faced a “who governs Britain?” election in February 1974, then-PM Edward Heath was turfed out of Downing Street by Labour’s Harold Wilson.

Rishi Sunak confirms election will be next year, despite legal right to wait until January 2025

But an election held late in 2024 would not come without its own political risks. Indeed, the increased chatter about an election early next year means that if we end May with the PM still yet to trigger a national poll, Sunak faces the prospect of being mocked as a “bottler” by  his Labour opponents.

It is roundly acknowledged that Keir Starmer wants to make the possibility of Sunak refusing to call an early election and going “long” into the autumn a talking point in a campaign. As John Major found in 1997, the optics of being seen to hold onto power past one’s time — with opinion polls refusing to relent — are inherently politically difficult. And Sunak may be doubly exposed to this criticism, given that he remains, as opposition parties like to point out, a “man without a mandate”.

Thus, if polls continue to prove inflexible in the New Year, Sunak would be well-advised to end such early election speculation and nip any consequent “bottler” sledging in the bud. He could do so by making plain — both to feverish commentators and Conservative MPs — his intention to go “long”. 

However, the announcement that the spring budget will be held on 6 March, some weeks earlier than is considered typical, would suggest Sunak intends to keep his options open when it comes to election timing, (in 2023, the spring budget landed on the 15th; in 2022, it was the 23rd). The move could make him a hostage to fortune in time — with his alleged indecisiveness likened to that of “bottler” Gordon Brown in 2007. 

Labour’s Trump card

Another point worth considering when it comes to election timing, is that an autumn/winter poll would see the electoral timelines in the United States and UK converge. 

Simply put, such Transatlantic electoral convergence in late 2024 — with a presidential election penned in for 5 November — could forge in presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump and Rishi Sunak a marriage of grave political inconvenience. 

Picture the prime minister on the campaign trail as he is incessantly quoted the former president’s positions — especially on net zero, where they possess a genuine political affinity — and forced at every turn to walk a tightrope: neither rebuking nor embracing Trump’s extreme, domestically unpopular positions. Trump also maintains his admirers in the Conservative party; during the 2020 presidential election, for instance, Suella Braverman’s prime patron Sir John Hayes was seen wielding a “Keep America Great” banner. 

Keir Starmer, crucially, has embraced US Democratic president Joe Biden’s political pitch, gambling that the political advantage of weaponising anti-Trump sentiment in the UK will outweigh any potential diplomatic disadvantage, if a prime minister Keir Starmer must one day woo a president Trump. 

Keir Starmer’s American dream

Ultimately, observers on both sides of the pond could frame 2024’s Transatlantic electoral convergence as some era-defining, politically-totemic right versus left, progressive versus reactionary contest. Starmer, for one, sees a virtue in such an approach; Sunak, conversely, should beware The Donald.

What Rishi Sunak will want to talk about in 2024

While the US election will provide an interesting backdrop to an autumn election, both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer will also want to set the scene with their own political stalls. 

This will be an especially pressing concern for the prime minister, whose government is currently burdened with a pretty random policy agenda — including proposals on compulsory maths, scrapping HS2 and cracking down on pedicabs. He will want to define his pitch early and quickly in 2024, in what could amount to another reset. 

Regarding any new policy initiatives, Sunak is being under pressure within his own party to place a pledge to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) at the heart of the Conservatives’ election manifesto. 

This approach, which is backed by former home secretary Suella Braverman and the New Conservatives’ Danny Kruger, would act as a clear dividing line with Labour — allowing the prime minister to escalate his positioning on his foremost political creed: “stopping the boats”. Of course, Sunak knows that much of next year will hinge on the success or failure of his Rwanda scheme; and if he is frustrated in his efforts to get Rwanda-bound planes off the ground in 2024, an ideologically charged pledge on the ECHR could offer some short term relief within his party, at least. 

Week-in-Review: Suella Braverman isn’t as strong politically as she thinks she is

However, a commitment to leave the ECHR would also alienate a significant swathe of moderate Conservative MPs and distract from other areas of Sunak’s electoral offering.

Therefore, with the Rwanda deportation plan doing so much harm to Sunak’s chosen reputation as an effective administrator, what seems more likely is that the PM will ruthlessly attack Keir Starmer’s spending commitments throughout 2024 — especially his £28 billion green energy pledge.

For this, Sunak will need fresh stances and soundbites for ministers and party apparatchiks to repeat relentlessly in the media. Duly, in recent months, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has hinted pretty incautiously that his tax-cutting tilt in the autumn statement is a sign of things to come. He told Times Radio in November, for example, that he hoped to be able to “reduce the tax burden still further in the future”. 

It is reported that the Conservative Party is currently weighing up two significant tax cuts for next year: the first features a plan to reduce the headline rate of income tax; the second involves abolishing inheritance tax. This latter slated tax cut was, of course, heavily trailed ahead of Hunt’s autumn statement in November.

On the former, Rishi Sunak pledged during the first Conservative leadership contest of 2022, to reduce the basic rate from 20 per cent to 19 per cent in 2024. Might he make good on this promise in the months ahead?

Certainly, if recent history and media briefings are anything to go by, the spring budget on 6 March could be chock full of pre-election giveaways.

The elections before the election

Of course, before we arrive at some national poll, electors across the country will head to the ballot box for the local elections set for 2 May 2024. 

In the local elections in May of 2023, Conservatives lost 1,063 councillors — a worse outcome than their own deliberately pessimistic expectation management had predicted. The dire outcome subsequently set the scene for a series of Sunak-sceptic Conservative right conferences — rhetorically-charged conclaves which proved significant in hollowing out the prime minister’s early 2023 revival narrative. 

In this way, if the prime minister does go “long” with a general election, the locals will be interpreted as a yardstick for whether Sunak recorded any political successes in the first part of 2024. More bad results would see the Conservatives enter a further phase of introspection and infighting — essentially rerunning the post-locals fallout which accosted Sunak earlier this year. Although the sense of existential dread empowering Sunak’s critics in this eventuality — with mere months to go until a general election and marginal seats at stake — would be greatly heightened.

Any attempt by the PM to inspire a revival narrative in early 2024 could also be undermined by a poor showing in the forthcoming Wellingborough by-election (2019 majority, 18,540) — with Peter Bone’s former constituents readying to head to the polls. Following this could flow a further by-election routing in Scott Benton’s Blackpool South constituency (2019 majority, 3,690), that is if the MP’s appeal against a 35-day commons suspension fails. 

Wellingborough by-election: Minister insists ‘all to play for’ in Peter Bone’s former seat

Certainly, the Starmerite electoral machine will be gearing up for victories in any and all by-election contests in 2024 — following significant pro-Labour swings in Mid Bedfordshire, Selby and Ainsty and Tamworth during 2023. 

What Keir Starmer won’t want to talk about

Keir Starmer styled the latter stages of his 2023 as Labour moving inexorably into its third stage of opposition: namely, “setting out the positive case” for his party. 

The Labour leader’s party conference in October speech ran according to this strategy, with then-announced plans for 1.5 million new homes, new towns, technical colleges and planning reform. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves’ speech focussed on supply side reform, legislation for Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts alongside any major fiscal event and the reaffirmation of VAT on private school fees.

But will this be enough? Undoubtedly, a key test for Keir Starmer in 2024 will be whether he can maintain his confidence in Labour’s “setting out the positive case”, while facing constant pressure from the Conservative Party over his spending plans. 

In this regard, Starmer’s positioning on net zero and green energy will be central. It is already plain that the Conservatives are planning to relentlessly attack Labour over its pledge to borrow £28 billion to spend on green investment. In fact, we have already seen a trail of this approach exhibited by chancellor Jeremy Hunt at the autumn statement. 

Bearing down on Labour’s retained green borrowing commitment in November, Hunt declared: “[Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves’] main policy is a demand-side boost to growth, increasing borrowing by £28 billion a year, with absolutely no plans to repay it”. 

Thus, having unveiled a larger-than-expected cut to national insurance from 12 per cent to 10 per cent in his autumn statement (legislation on this is expected to fall before the House in January), Hunt was setting up a classic binary choice ahead of an election: prudent tax cutting with the Conservatives, or debt-funded spending with Labour.

Fiscal flippancy, of course, is not a charge received lightly in Labour circles. And with Hunt having pencilled in steep curbs in public spending beyond the next general election, there remains the question of how Labour will manage the economy within these additional constraints.

Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the autumn statement flowed speculation that Starmer could further water down his offering on green energy. These fast-denied reports have since resurfaced in a Guardian article, which explains how “Labour is considering scaling back ambitious plans to borrow £28bn a year to invest in green jobs and industry”.

There is said to be an internal divide over the flagship “green prosperity fund”, with shadow Cabinet Office minister Pat McFadden, Labour’s campaign chief Morgan McSweeney and shadow Treasury minister Spencer Livermore reportedly in favour of further loosening their party’s embrace of the pledge. Doing so would fortify the ideological foundations of Starmerism and signal that the party leader is clutching the “Ming Vase” ever-tighter ahead of an election campaign. 

In fact, the constant briefing on the £28 billion green pledge takes us to Starmerism’s central dilemma: how does Labour reconcile its radicalism, epitomised by its climate ambitions, with its stolidity, conditioned by the collective memory of Trussonomics, Conservative attacks, a perilous economic inheritance and Hunt’s fiscal trickery? 

The Labour leader, ahead of a general election, will be forced to finally face this question: his ultimate endgame. It means the door to a further Labour climbdown on its climate commitments — recent disavowals notwithstanding — remains well and truly open. 

Logic of ‘Starmerism’ means Labour can never fully embrace £28bn green pledge

Elsewhere in Labour land…

With the £28 billion green pledge unlikely to appear on the side of an election battle bus anytime soon (unless it is Rishi Sunak’s), Labour’s election attack lines look set to go hard on the state of the economy. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, likes to riff on Ronald Reagan’s question from the American presidential election in 1980: “Are me and my family better off after 13 years of Conservative Government?”. 

Expect to hear that more in 2024. Indeed, The Times reports that Starmer will use a speech on 4 January to double down on his messaging on 14 years of “national decline” under the Conservatives. 

Meanwhile, a new Welsh first minister will be in place in 2024 following the resignation of veteran politician Mark Drakeford. So far, the two individuals battling out to become Labour’s leader in Wales are Jeremy Miles, the education minister, and economy minister, Vaughan Gething. Gething, said to be closely aligned with Keir Starmer’s politics, is currently viewed to be the far and away frontrunner in the contest. Voting is scheduled to begin in February 2024, with a new leader announced in March 2024.

Mark Drakeford announces resignation as first minister of Wales

The elevation of a loyal Starmerite in Wales — something Drakeford has not always been — could add some firepower to Starmer’s UK-wide operation, already bolstered by Anas Sarwar in Scotland. In time, Gething could emerge as crucial to combatting classic Conservative criticisms over the state of public services in “Labour-run Wales”.

Starmer’s Scottish question 

It is now well-established that the SNP’s grip on Scottish politics is loosening after years of domination. The development, it is also roundly acknowledged, provides an opening for the Labour Party and — lo — Keir Starmer is now a frequent visitor north of the border. 

Scottish Labour’s recent victory in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election is illustrative both of the party’s intent north of the border and the potential for significant success. (See also the selection of former New Labour cabinet minister Douglas Alexander as the candidate for the East Lothian constituency at the next election. Of course, victory in 2024 could see Starmer, who values political and ministerial experience highly, invite Alexander back into the cabinet fold).

Still, at the next general election, the SNP will seek to test the Labour leader on his policy offering and purported progressivism. The announcement of a new tax bracket of 45p in the pound for those earning between £75,000 and £125,140 a year in the recent Scottish government budget can, in part, be interpreted as an attempt by first minister Humza Yousaf to draw a dividing line between the SNP and Labour over fiscal policy. 

Thus, if Starmer is serious about gaining support from erstwhile SNP voters, the Labour leader may be forced to return to his essential political offering — which has been forged through competition with the Conservatives in England. 

How the battle for Scotland could shape Starmerism

Starmer’s UK-wide electoral challenge in 2024 will be to reconcile a progressive pitch in Scotland, that wins over the newly SNP-sceptic, with an approach in England, that is defined by largely shadowing Conservative policy positions. In this way, if there is a path to Keir Starmer retaining his £28 billion green pledge — and to potential radical destinations beyond — it runs through Scotland.

Politics gets dirtier

One thing we can state with reasonable certainty is that politics in 2024 is set to get some distance “dirtier”, with prime minister Rishi Sunak, in particular, seeking to coarsen public discourse as we approach an election. 

The Times reports that Conservative Party researchers have spent recent weeks trawling over Sir Keir Starmer’s record in a bid to target him over his anti-Brexit “remainer” credentials and his record as a human rights lawyer. “He likes talking about his record as a public prosecutor”, one senior Conservative told the newspaper. “He doesn’t like talking about his time as a lefty human rights lawyer”.

However, if one planted story in The Daily Mail is anything to go by — which explains how “How Sir Keir Starmer used the European Court of Human Rights to fight for a pet dog called Dino” — this strategy needs some more work. That said, more overtly aggressive briefings have appeared in recent Telegraph articles such as: “Starmer part of ‘human rights glitterati’ alongside disgraced lawyer, says veterans minister”, “Starmer helped free dangerous prisoners including arsonist who terrorised former girlfriend’s family”, “Starmer tried to win damages for convicted IRA terrorist” and an editorial entitled: “Keir Starmer’s record”.

2024 is also expected to provide the backdrop to a new approach from Rishi Sunak personally, with the prime minister set to exchange his No 10 bunker for doorsteps in key battleground seats. The answer to the Conservatives’ electoral travails, CCHQ appears to have resolved, is both more Sunak and more Keir Starmer. 

The first female chancellor?

In a reshuffle earlier this year, some months later than anticipated, Keir Starmer finally ensured his shadow cabinet top team reflected Sunak’s Whitehall rejig conducted last February.

Labour reshuffle underlines the strategic coherence of ‘Starmerism’

The reshuffle, which elevated party right figures at the expense of their “soft left” counterparts, was profoundly consistent with Keir Starmer’s wider approach to opposition, based around unmooring the Labour leader from the maxims he majored on in his 2020 leadership bid. Conducted mere weeks ahead of party conference, it was also framed as Starmer’s final top-team rejig before an election and we should not, therefore, anticipate a further Labour reshuffle in 2024.

But the same cannot be said for Rishi Sunak. His recent reshuffles have had a clear, logical momentum which has not entirely resolved itself. In August, for example, he vaulted Claire Coutinho, an MP only since 2019, to cabinet as secretary of state for energy security and net zero. Then in September — while new foreign secretary Lord Cameron stole the headlines — further Conservative up-and-comers, such as new party chair Richard Holden, health secretary Victoria Atkins and chief secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott entered the PM’s inner circle. 

Why David Cameron is back

Might Sunak, therefore, in a bid to further distance his party from the tumults of 2022, elevate another round of Conservative youngsters? Could this culminate in a chancellor Coutinho — a promotion which has proved the subject of frequent speculation in SW1?

The economic outlook in 2024 — and what it means for Sunak

Following news that inflation fell to 3.9 per cent in November, Rishi Sunak is expected to make the case in the New Year that the economy under his stewardship is on the right track. 

Potentially bolstering this approach is speculation that the Bank of England (BoE) could, with prices increasing at a slower rate than projected, cut interest rates in the first half of next year. The move — which would be welcomed by No 10 as Hunt prepares a looser fiscal approach in the spring budget — could ease pressure on mortgage holders.

That said, the BoE’s interest rate hikes through 2023 are expected to be felt by more homeowners in 2024 as fixed-rate mortgages expire and are reset. In all, around 1.5 million fixed mortgages are due to expire next year.

Behold, the Labour Party’s not-so-secret weapon: Liz Truss MP

Furthermore, despite less punishing rates of inflation, the UK is plainly still struggling to escape its spell of economic stagnation. The Bank of England expects zero growth next year, while the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) slashed its growth outlook to 0.7 per cent in 2024 and 1.4 per cent in 2025 at the autumn statement — down from previous forecasts of 1.8 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively.

And with news that output fell by 0.3 per cent month on month in October, the UK could be at risk of a technical recession if there is a contraction recorded across 2023’s fourth quarter. The official figures for the October-December period will be released in February.

It means the prospect of a recession, which Rishi Sunak has taken credit for avoiding through 2023, remains a possibility. 

This analysis also suggests that the prime minister’s economic pitch in the new year, swelled with optimism, could jar with the reality experienced by many across the country. Further poor economic news would also beg questions of what “headroom” chancellor Jeremy Hunt (or possibly Claire Coutinho) will be able to find for earmarked fiscal giveaways, on income tax, inheritance tax or both. 

Ultimately, this probably makes the prospect of an election in late 2024 more likely — with economic improvement later next year preparing the ground for pre-election giveaways in an autumn statement.

In lieu of a conclusion… 

If the opinion polls hold steady between now and a general election, 2024 could see power change hands between the Labour and Conservative parties for only the second time this century. 

Conversely, if Rishi Sunak does manage to carve a “narrow path” to victory in 2024, it would secure a fifth term for his party — a historic, if right now unlikely, achievement.

But before British politics arrives at either of these post-election scenarios, there are a series of questions to be answered, rubicons to be crossed and battles to be won or lost — sticking points that this article has undertaken to consider. That said, I have not been entirely comprehensive…

Another key factor to consider in 2024 will be how the resurgent Liberal Democrats under Sir Ed Davey fare in Lib-Con contests across the “Blue Wall”. Electoral Calculus predicts that, in an election held tomorrow, Davey’s party would win 31 seats — a significant improvement on their 2019 haul, just 11 MPs strong as it was. As stated, these future victories are expected to come across the Blue Wall and, potentially, in seats currently occupied by Conservative “big beasts” such as Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Nadhim Zahawi. 

Then, on the Conservatives’ right flank, there is also the issue of a resurgent Reform UK. The restyled Brexit Party has seized on the increased saliency of “small boats” crossings to position itself as the natural receptacle of Sunak-sceptic, Rwanda maximalist discontents. The “Farage factor” could hence feature highly in 2024, with the former UKIP and Brexit Party leader returned from the I’m a Celeb jungle raring, it seems, to make his mark on the political scene. (Nigel Farage, remember, topped The New Statesman’s Right Power List in 2023). 

Could, therefore, the forthcoming Wellingborough by-election prove the ideal platform for a fully-fledged Farage return to frontline campaigning? In 2015, UKIP came second in the constituency with 9,868 votes. Certainly, in Wellingborough — as elsewhere in the country — Reform UK could act as a crippling anti-Conservative spoiler.

A final question to consider is this: who will be leading the Conservative Party at the end of 2024? According to ConservativeHome’s monthly ranking of cabinet ministers, Kemi Badenoch is right now the best positioned of the potential Conservative leadership contenders. But as the recent fall in fortune of James Cleverly — now charged with leading the cursed Home Office — shows, plenty can and will change when it comes to the post-Sunak runners and riders. 

Week-in-Review: New right-wing movement, backed by Kemi Badenoch, spells doom for Rishi Sunak

What may be certain, however, is that with the Conservative Party 18 points down and having little to lose, the 2024 election campaign could be one of the longest, most expensive and dirtiest in history. Make sure you join for the ride: 

Josh Self is Editor of, follow him on Twitter here. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.

Year-in-Review: The rejection of Rishi Sunak