The next UK election: More 2017 than 1997?
UK and Europe Political Economy | 23/11/2023

The next UK election: More 2017 than 1997?


Stonehaven’s latest MRP reveals that Labour are set for a 1997-style landslide majority at the next UK general.

But, the data warns against complacency from Labour– a critical 6% of voters who are Tory defectors have the potential to undermine the Party’s ambitions as they are yet to fully convince them of their programme for government. If not careful the Party could be exposed to a shock result akin to Theresa May’s minority government outcome in 2017.

Against an uphill battle, PM Rishi Sunak may well see a change in his electoral fortune if he can mobilise these reluctant Tory defectors.


Stonehaven’s latest MRP reveals that an election on current voter preferences would deliver 402 seats for Labour, a majority of 154 and an outcome with echoes of Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide. The model finds a collapse in the Conservative vote from 2019, with only 50% of 2019 Conservatives saying they would vote Conservative now. One in six of these 2019 Conservative voters would now vote Labour.

While the Conservative share of the vote fell only slightly from 26.3% in August to 25.8% in these new findings, this slight shift and changes elsewhere sees the Conservative seat count fall from 196 to 151. The model finds a consolidation of opposition against the Conservative Party since August 2023 - Labour are winning support from traditional Tory voter groups and the Liberal Democrats are gaining in seats where they are the main challengers.

Labour’s position in England, where it is projected to return 353 seats, is buoyed further by the erosion of support for the SNP in Scotland, who would return only 20 MPs to Westminster, its worst General Election result since 2010. Eight years ago this recovery was unimaginable – the SNP had swept nearly all of Scotland’s Westminster seats and Labour returned one Scottish MP. Yet, both the model and the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election swing to Labour confirm the worsening fate of the SNP. Since the shock resignation of former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s popularity has been on a downward trend and any momentum behind a second independence referendum halted.


A 6-percentage point increase in national share of the vote to the Conservatives – a small but significant shift – would be sufficient to deny Labour a majority, returning a hung parliament, in an ‘electoral shock’ reminiscent of the 2017 general election when Theresa May as the Conservative contender had seemed unassailable.

This critical 6% of voters are reluctant Tory defectors – people who voted Conservative in 2019 but are now largely abstaining or voting for other parties. Rishi Sunak will have to win over this group in order to improve the Conservatives chances come the next election, and can do so without needing to make large gains into Labour’s vote share.


The Conservatives’ hopes of denying Labour a majority are therefore likely to lie in seats that are traditional bell-weather Tory-Labour marginals (such as Swindon North) or more traditional Conservative seats in the South West and East of England (such as Mid-Norfolk and North Somerset) - these would also swing in Stonehaven's model of a 6% uptick in the Conservative vote share.

Conservative strategists will be aware that although support for the Party in traditional “safe” seats has also fallen even more dramatically than in 1997, the Blue Wall bears lower hanging fruit. Recent changes in the Government’s direction reflect this – No.10 has shifted its focus to wooing ‘core Tories’ back to the Party. David Cameron’s return to the Cabinet, recent speculation about a cut to inheritance tax, and a new-set of ‘aspiration nation’ pledges have shifted the Conservative focus back to the Tory heartlands.

Senior Insights Adviser Mark McInnes, suggests the same, “The Conservatives must now clearly focus on those voters who can get them back above 30% and into a viable position before a General Election. Getting these formally core Conservative voters back will be the difference between a catastrophic defeat and a heavy election loss.”


Stonehaven’s model shows a bleak electoral map for the Government - all the so-called Red Wall seats gained by the Conservatives in 2019 have been, at this moment, won back by Labour. This is a potentially significant shift and constrains the Conservative pathway to a majority.

Furthermore, a deeper look at the model’s data reveals that winning the crucial reluctant Tory defectors and the seats they occupy will be a very challenging task for the Conservatives to perform. Taking those who voted Conservative in 2019, over 60% think ‘the Conservative Government is tired’. Of this critical group of reluctant Tory defectors an even greater majority, 75%, believe the Tories are tired. This is not simply a rejection of contemporary policies or figures, but a systemic dissatisfaction with the Conservatives ability to form a dynamic and convincing Government. Sunak’s recent change of direction, therefore, is unlikely to substantially change the minds of the voters he desperately needs to win over ahead of the next election.

Tactical voting, as identified by Stonehaven’s model, will therefore play a key part in the election outcome. Mark McInnes notes that “the Conservatives problem remains that on such a low vote share a consolidation of the Labour and Liberal Democrat votes in individual seats can result in huge losses.” The increase to 54 Liberal Democrat seats, therefore, poses serious concerns for the Conservatives at the next election.


Labour’s majority is not in the bag yet, and the Party’s ambition could still be undermined by the reluctant Tory defectors. Labour will need to go on the offensive to claim this group, boosting their chances of a majority and mitigating any threat they pose. Starmer’s Party, however, are yet to convince a majority of this group to defect to Labour.

Almost half of 2019 Conservative voters (49%) believe that they will be worse off with Labour; an indication that greater reassurances are need for Labour to maintain its current electoral standing as voters get closer to cast a real ballot. Even though public perception has strengthened around Labour’s competence to run the economy, the Party will need to demonstrate how their policies will tangibly make people better off. When the starting gun of the electoral campaign is fired, Starmer cannot risk this group lurching back to the Conservatives.


This critical 6%, the reluctant Tory defectors, have the potential to cause local and national upsets. Understanding them further, and how they could be mobilised, will be crucial for both parties as well as those with a vested interest in the UK’s political situation.

Stonehaven's MRP provides a data-driven assessment of the electoral landscape. Continually updated with incoming data, this model is deeply informed by an extensive dataset amassed from roughly 100,000 respondents over the last 18 months. Our most recent survey update adds 7,000 new respondents across September and October; however, the true strength of our findings lies in the richness of our cumulative dataset spanning two years, combined with census and other constituency level data.

If you would like to find out more about Stonehaven’s MRP’s findings and what it means for your business please contact [email protected].

To view the model results for each constituency, please click here.

You can access the data tables here.

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