The Irish Times view on the UK election: Labour is in the driving seat

The party’s current poll lead suggests the main opposition party should win an absolute majority, but a long campaign lies ahead

Fourteen years of Conservative rule in the UK is coming to an end. Or so the opinion polls suggest. British prime minister Rishi Sunak has called time on a rudderless government, for so long living on borrowed time. His surprise announcement of a general election for July 4th ultimately makes no difference. Further delay would have done little to improve his prospects.

It is likely to be good news for the UK’s nearest neighbour, Ireland, whose warming relationship with Britain a decade ago was soured by Brexit and its aftermath. Damage was inflicted not only on this island, North and South, both its economy and politics, but to the unifying project of the European Union.

Speaking in the rain outside No 10 Downing Street, Sunak implored voters to believe “that my work since I became prime minister shows that we have a plan and are prepared to take bold action necessary for our country to flourish”. No mention was made of the longer-term Tory legacy, of prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss and of chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s economy-crippling budget, all legacies best forgotten.

No time either for Sunak to boast of his own personal flagship achievements – no refugee flights yet to Rwanda, and “key” promised legislation on smoking bans, regulating football, and renters’ and leaseholders’ rights swept away by the proroguing of parliament.


Sunak was able to claim that inflation on his watch has been brought down to two per cent, but that is cold comfort to householders whose mortgages remain stubbornly high and who will not see prices fall. Growth is up slightly, but the UK since the pandemic began remains way behind the US. According to YouGov polling, 69 per cent disapprove of the way the economy is being handled.

The big danger to a “remodelled” Labour Party, and its leader Keir Starmer, is the sort of complacency at the prospects of a landslide victory that once scuppered Neil Kinnock’s chances. And so the nervous party, determined to rebut traditional Tory claims of financial profligacy, has embraced Tory fiscal guidelines and junked or reworked many more radical policies, not least a commitment to a £28 billion green programme seen as crucial to rejuvenating the economy. It is relying on a slogan of " change” to win the day.

The party’s current 21-percentage-point poll lead should guarantee it an absolute majority, although the vagaries of first-past-the-post voting, and the likelihood of anti-Tory tactical voting in constituencies where Labour or the Liberal Democrats are placed second, make predictions dangerous. The unquantifiable effects of the right-wing Reform Party vote also add a new dimension of uncertainty.

And a long election campaign leaves plenty of time for slip-ups and momentum shifts.