Keir Starmer stands on the cusp of power — and Rishi Sunak of irrelevance

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Election day is upon us. And if the opinion polls are to be believed, the results announced overnight are going to be genuinely momentous. This afternoon, Keir Starmer stands on the cusp of Downing Street and becoming only the second Labour leader this century to win an election. But more than this: he stands to do so with a historic majority.

In a final message to voters yesterday evening, Starmer urged Britain to “imagine a different future [on] Friday morning — a Labour government”. He went on to warn supporters that they must not think “the polls have somehow predicted the future”.

Still, the complacency-shunning Starmer will have been buoyed by his party’s eleventh-hour endorsement from The Sun newspaper yesterday; the tabloid’s backing, while not especially enthusiastic, serves as a further signal of what is to come.

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, stands on the cusp of irrelevance, brought about by a dramatic electoral obliteration. The opinion polls paint a picture of utter devastation — the kind of which the Conservative Party, in its current composition, looks ill-positioned to handle.

Of the final election “mega” MRP polls, the best result for Rishi Sunak’s party is recorded by More in Common, which forecasts a Labour majority of 210 and the Conservative Party as reduced to 126 MPs. The worst result comes from Savanta, which foretells a Labour majority of 382, and the Tory parliamentary diminished to a rump of 64 MPs. Every other major pollster features somewhere in between.

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On top of this, according to a report in The Financial Times this morning, the Conservative Party’s own internal projections show the party is confident of winning 80 seats — with a further 60 “in play”. Rishi Sunak’s own best-case scenario, therefore, is 140 MPs: that would be a historic defeat. Comparatively, the New Labour landslide in 1997 left the Conservatives on 165 MPs.

As such, a likely prominent feature of election night will be a string of “Portillo Moments”, as high-profile Conservatives are routed in their own backyards. YouGov predicts 16 cabinet ministers will lose their seats overnight, including leader of the commons Penny Mordaunt, “common sense minister” Esther McVey, defence secretary Grant Shapps, chancellor Jeremy Hunt and party chairman Richard Holden.

Now, if the election results are as disastrous as the disastrous opinion polls and Rishi Sunak’s disastrous campaign lead us to believe — the recriminations could begin as soon as tomorrow morning. As I reported yesterday, former home secretary Suella Braverman is already out the blocks, and her seething broadside is a taste of the fault-finding and blame-assigning to come.

Rishi Sunak, naturally, will have a lot to answer for if election night progresses as we expect. First, there was the very decision to call this election many months earlier than was needed or expected. Then came the rain-drenched announcement, the Titanic visit — and that was all before Sunak’s utterly maladroit D-Day debacle and his botched handling of “Gamble-gate”.

In terms of Sunak’s messaging, the campaign began with a flurry of policies aimed at socially conservative voters, such as the national service and pensions “triple lock plus” announcements; and has since careered into constitutionally meaningless warnings of a Labour “super-majority” and its purportedly dire consequences.

Accordingly, the big dilemma facing Sunak over the next 48 hours — which one suspects he has already formulated a plan for — is the nature and timing of his inevitable departure. There will be calls from some corners of the Conservative Party for the prime minister to go immediately — individuals like the grudge-bearing Braverman and her supporters, who may well stand to gain from a rushed, chaotic leadership contest.

But privately the pressure will be on Sunak, as his final act of Tory service, to lead a ship-steadying period of transition. This raises the prospect of a defeated and humiliated Rishi Sunak leading his party for some weeks in opposition, facing Labour’s first Speech from the Throne (King’s Speech) since 2010 in the process. Of course, before all this can be considered, there’s the not insignificant matter of Sunak needing to win his seat in Richmond and Northallerton. According to a recent Guardian report, Sunak himself recognises this is far from guaranteed.

As far as the smaller parties are concerned, Reform’s campaign has wavered between huge, triumphant sell-out rallies, and crisis management over some new candidate controversy. In spite of it all, Nigel Farage looks set for a good night, as his parliamentary dream — after seven failed attempts — is likely realised in Clacton.

It’s possible too that Reform will make advances in other parts of the country — such as in Lee Anderson’s seat in Ashfield and party chairman Richard Tice’s seat in Boston and Skegness. Certainly, Farage has been in no mood to manage expectations in recent days; he told GB News yesterday he could smash UKIP’s 3.9 million votes (and one MP) record in 2015. “I think 6 million [votes] is very possible”, the Reform leader said.

Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, look set to be the primary beneficiary of widespread tactical voting this election, especially across the South West — where many potential “Portillo Moments” await. The Greens, on the other hand, could be hurt nationally by tactical voting, as a Get-The-Tories-Out feeling strengthens. But the party seems confident of gaining a new MP, co-leader Carla Denyer, in Bristol Central — ousting shadow cabinet minister Thangam Debbonaire in the process. Some polls have also had the party winning in Waveney Valley where the Greens’ other co-leader, Adrian Ramsay, is standing.

In Scotland, having struggled to forward a coherent message in the wake of Humza Yousaf’s unceremonious departure, the SNP looks set for a tough election. First minister John Swinney has insisted, in line with his predecessor’s independence strategy, that the SNP will have a mandate for another referendum if it wins a majority of Scottish seats. A bad night tonight, therefore, risks setting not just the party back, but the independence cause too.

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