Why The Tories Are Still Heading For 'A Pasting' Despite What Rishi Sunak Says

Rishi Sunak has been rinsed by polling experts.
Rishi Sunak has been rinsed by polling experts. CARL COURT via Getty Images

In politics, just as in comedy, timing is everything.

On Monday, Rishi Sunak revealed to the nation what his big takeaway was from the local elections, in which the Tories lost 500 councillors and all but one of the 11 mayoral contests.

“These results suggest we are heading for a hung parliament,” the prime minister told The Times.

Just three days later, the same newspaper revealed that the latest YouGov poll had put the Conservatives 30 points behind Keir Starmer’s party.

According to the Electoral Calculus website, if those results were mirrored at the general election later this year, the Tories would be left with 13 MPs and the Labour would have a majority of 452.

While no one seriously expects things to be as bad as that for the Conservatives, very few share the PM’s view that the result remains in the balance.

To be fair to Sunak, there was some psephological evidence to back up his seemingly far-fetched claim.

In their analysis of the local elections, polling gurus Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher said that based on the results, the national equivalent vote share (NEV) put Labour just seven points ahead of the Tories.

If that was repeated at the general election, they said, it would leave Labour as the largest party but short of an overall majority.

Like a drowning man desperately clinging to a piece of driftwood, the prime minister tried to present their forecast as proof that the Tories are not heading for electoral oblivion. The problem for the PM, though, is that no one believes him, least of all a host of other polling experts.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said: “Nothing has happened in the past week to change our view that Labour are on course for a substantial majority. The Tories areon for a pasting.”

He said the PM’s hung parliament claims were “frankly a wilful misunderstanding of how these things work”.

There is limited potential for a change in the polling and it would take something monumental, like a Labour imposion,” Hopkins added.

“A hung parliament is the best the Conservatives could hope for and they would need some sort of miracle to achieve that.”

Ben Page of Ipsos said talk of a hung parliament was “for the birds”, while Luke Tryl of More in Commons also dismissed the idea.

He said: “My view is you can’t conclude from this set of election results that we are heading to a hung parliament. The best estimate we can make … suggests current voting intention is closer than some of those 25-point leads, but would still be at Blair majority levels.”

Tory MPs are equally dismissive of the PM’s apparent optimism.

“All he’s doing is giving people more of an excuse to vote Labour to kick us out,” said one former minister.

Nothing has happened in the past week to change our view that Labour are on course for a substantial majority. The Tories are on for a pasting.

A cabinet minister told HuffPost UK that the Tories could be reduced to a rump of just 100 MPs if Nigel Farage decides to campaign for Reform UK.

“We could get 200 on a good day, but you can halve that if Farage gets involved and peels away voters to Reform,” the minister said.

On the impact Farage could have during an election campaign, Luke Tryl said: “He makes it less likely the Reform vote gets squeezed because he knows how to take up air time and command the news agenda very successfully.

“I don’t think he necessarily turbo-charges things, but it he were in the race I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see as much of a fall in the Reform vote.”

Natalie Elphicke’s shock defection on Wednesday to Labour was another gut-punch for Sunak.

“It knocked us for six,” said one Tory MP who was in the Commons when the right-wing Dover MP dramatically crossed the floor minutes before PMQs.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with former Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke in his parliamentary office in the House of Commons, London, after it was announced she has defected to Labour, hitting out at the

Elphicke’s decision to switch sides has also been a test for Labour MPs, which those around Keir Starmer believe many of them have failed.

The official photos of the Labour leader welcoming the party’s latest recruit had not even been released before the anti-Elphicke briefings began from her new colleagues.

How could someone with such outspoken views on immigration - and who had defended her former Tory MP husband after his conviction for sexual assault - be accepted into the party?

But one shadow cabinet member told HuffPost UK: “This close to an election, how could we refuse?”

A senior Labour source added: “The reaction to it has shown that too many of our MPs still have an opposition mindset.”

One of Elphicke’s former Tory colleagues said: “Having to accept decisions that you don’t agree with is what government is about. Labour MPs need to remember that they need voters with the same views as Natalie to win the election.”

With every passing day, Sunak’s authority ebbs away while Labour look increasingly like a government in waiting. It is no surprise that so many at Westminster wonder how the PM will struggle to keep his government on the road for another six months.