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ERR in London: Labour Party victory forecast for next year's UK general election

The Union Flag.
The Union Flag. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Given 2024 will almost certainly see a general election in the United Kingdom, a key ally of Estonia, ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm" took a vox pop of experts and members of the public alike.

"Välisilm" reported that recent opinion polls show a likely landslide victory for the opposition Labour Party, one which may keep it in office for years to come, while the Conservative Party, headed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is riven with division on, among other issues, the situation with migrants arriving in Britain.

ERR's Epp Ehand spoke to the heads of two think-tanks, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a right-leaning organization, and the Fabian Society, a left-leaning, democratic socialist organization closely identified with the Labour Party.

Matthew Lesh, head of communications at the IEA, said that the Conservative Party represents at present a broad coalition of political forces, which, he said, has been both a strength and a weakness.

Lesh told "Välisilm" that so far as the current U.K. government goes: "The messaging is very mixed and perhaps a little bit incoherent."

Another matter is the dependency the party, though Labour has been much the same, has long had on managerialism as an approach.

"I think he (Rishi Sunak – ed.) has a bit of a tendency to try to keep everyone happy, and in the process not really satisfy anyone in the end, and trying to treat things as a managerial problem rather than having a more serious vision or consistent interaction or sense of purpose and meaning around the government."

Indeed, this seems to have been the case since the 2016 Brexit referendum and its outcome, Lesh went on.

"Particularly since the Brexit vote in 2016 has caused a lot of division and disagreement about the approach to take among the Conservative Party, and as a result of that, they haven't been able to have a kind of coherent vision or purpose or direction," Lesh said.

Andrew Harrop, the general secretary of the Fabian Society and also a writer, meanwhile said that the Conservative Party has been in power for such a length of time that it seems that they have lost the will to both win and to govern, making change inevitable.

Harrop said: "The Conservative Party has been in power a long time; they look like they have lost the will to win, to govern, and the public want a change. I think it's likely, but not certain, that Labour will win the next election and certainly people in the Labour Party are not complacent, but it's certainly the most plausible, likely outcome."

The origins of this go back a long way, he said.

"Labour will want to fight the next election by talking about people's standard of living and about public services: We never really recovered from the global financial crisis, we've had years of government cuts, and people have not seen their incomes rising after inflation, so there's just this sense that the economy has not worked for people, for families, and everyone is ready for a change."

On the other hand, the position on Ukraine will not be affected by the switchover, Harrop went on.

"If Labour does win I don't think the position on Ukraine will change. There's a real cross-political consensus in the U.K. about our support and solidarity for the people of Ukraine. There was an exception with Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the Labour Party (2015-2020) who was on the extreme left, but this generation of politicians who have replaced him, led by Keir Starmer, are completely behind the Ukrainian cause, while the Labour Party is very proud of the role it played in founding NATO. We see ourselves as a party committed to the North Atlantic alliance and standing in solidarity with our friends in Eastern Europe," Harrop said.

Labor plans neither to boost nor cut defense spending, "Välisilm" reported.

"Välisilm" also reported that the sacking of former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and the appointment of former prime minister David Cameron as foreign secretary – a reshuffle saw James Cleverly move from foreign secretary to take Braverman's vacated post – were the most significant changes in government of late.

"Välisilm" stated that Braverman represented the more radical wing of the Conservative Party, while Cameron brought a more moderate face to Brexit, the show reported.

The 2016 Brexit referendum was held at Cameron's proposal, when he was prime minister; his recent return to a leading political role also attracted attention in that he is not a sitting elected MP, an unusual development, though not without precedent.

A plan by the sitting government to send illegal boat refugees to the Central African nation of Rwanda for processing fell in the face of a legal challenge last month, though is now back on the agenda – a legislative amendment has been proposed to get round the issue, which has been fairly divisive for the party.

Part of that legislation will involve declaring Rwanda, nowadays a tourist destination for many non-dangerous, law-abiding citizens of the U.K., the U.S. and many other countries, a safe place for illegal migrants to be sent.

The controversial policy was first announced in April 2022, and would potentially see any illegal migrant arriving in the U.K. relocated there – though none have so far.

The policy was blocked by the U.K.'s Supreme Court, a relatively new institution founded in 2009 possibly with the procedure needed to initiate and pass any planned exit from the EU in mind.

The court hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the whole population of the U.K.

On the street, or more accurately in Hyde Park, "Välisilm" caught up with a few ordinary Britons and asked them about their opinion on next year's election.

One, Jessy, said: "I hope that people will use the vote to make a change; we've had the cons for 13 years, nothing has changed; it's got worse – although I don't think Labour at the moment is a very good opposition, but maybe it's the only one we have.

Another, Linda, told "Välisilm" that: "I think it's probably time for a change; I think the country needs change whichever party is in power, from time to time, so I think it's time to demonstrate that perhaps there are other ways of doing things."

While not using the term, another member of the public, Colin, hinted at the perceived uniparty nature of modern politics in saying that even if Labour wins, little substantive will change.

"I think it may be Labour, and if it is, then maybe it's a case of from the frying pan into the fire, but I think that's what will happen."

Labour leader Keir Starmer has recently been subjected to angry protests over his stance on the Israel-Gaza war and more specifically his refusal to back a ceasefire, hinting at another issue he may face if he does become Britain's next prime minister.

NATO next year celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding, in April 1949, at a time when Britain had a Labour prime minister, Clement Attlee.

Rishi Sunak is the fifth Conservative prime minister in a row to have held office; he recently spoke on another present-day divisive issue, that of gender.

Sunak's party, however, has been in office since 2010, roughly the same length of time that Labour was in office, from 1997, under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown.

From 2010-2015 the party was in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, an exceptional situation given Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system, in contrast to Estonia's proportional representation system and ensuing coalition governments.

David Cameron remained prime minister after results at the 2015 general election allowed the party to go it alone, practically staking his political career on the Brexit referendum he called.

He was replaced by Theresa May for three years from July 2016; the specter of getting Brexit "done" remained over Mrs. May's head during that time and was a policy pledge from her successor, Boris Johnson, in office to September 2022.

Following the seven-week premiership of Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak became prime minister in October 2022.

An opinion poll last month gave Labour a 44 percent rating compared with 21 percent for the Conservatives, though some reports say the gap has narrowed since then.

Legally, the U.K. government must hold a general election no later than January 28, 2025. Fixed term parliaments, as in Estonia, were put in place in the U.K. in 2011 but this was superseded last year by an act which in effect revived the prerogative powers of the monarch to dissolve and summon parliament, a power which the monarch deploys at the request of the sitting prime minister, so in effect restoring the power of the prime minister to have a general election called at a time of their choosing.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Välisilm,' reporter Epp Ehand.

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