OPINION - If the polls are right, Keir Starmer will win a giant majority: could he handle it?


A century ago, in the general election of October 1924, Stanley Baldwin achieved a majority of 210 for the Conservatives; modestly describing the landslide as “a magnificent opportunity for service”. Though it is true that the National Government formed after the October 1931 election boasted a governing majority of no less than 492, this coalition aggregate included seats held by Ramsay MacDonald’s National Labour, the Conservatives and some Liberals. Baldwin holds the undisputed modern record for a single party victory. And, on July 4, that record could fall to Sir Keir Starmer.

This, at any rate, is what MRP polls unambiguously suggest. These mega-surveys are more accurate because they involve very large samples of respondents and take account of different demographic groups rather than assuming a uniform national swing (MRP, if you’re interested, stands for “multi-level regression and post-stratification”).

On Saturday, a Survation poll of this kind — the first to be conducted since Nigel Farage’s return to the fray — suggested that Labour is heading for a majority of 262, leaving the Tories with a paltry 72 seats.

Nor is this the first time during the campaign that such surveys have delivered such results. On May 31, an Electoral Calculus poll predicted a Starmer majority of 336, and — again — the Conservative Party reduced to 72. On June 4, Survation found that Labour was on course for a majority of 324, leaving the Tories with only 71 seats.

All opinion polls, of whatever sort, need to be handled with a measure of caution. Still, the direction of travel is clear enough. This has prompted senior Conservatives to adopt a strategy that, somewhat pathetically, assumes a Labour victory but pleads with the voters to limit its scale.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, has warned of the perils of a Starmer “super majority”. In today’s Times, William Hague harks backs to the difficulties he experienced as Opposition leader between 1997 and 2001, with a parliamentary party of only 165. “[A] thin opposition,” he writes, “can lead to ministers being complacent, arrogant and heedless of objections to their actions, even within their own party. That can happen in any government, but with a vast majority it becomes very likely”.

All of which is true — though one is tempted to say that the Conservative Party should have thought of all this sooner, when it decided to embrace indifference to standards in public life (partygate) and economic chaos (Liz Truss). More interesting, in any case, is the consequences that a very large majority would have for Labour.

The government yielded by such an electoral outcome would be founded on a paradox: after an almost painfully cautious campaign, Prime Minister Starmer would find himself with the notional power to do more or less whatever he wanted.

The implications of such a victory would hardly be lost on the voters. Right now, their single objective is to get rid of the Tories. It is a very specific mission, uniting the nation. But if they woke up on July 5 to find that Labour had won a historic majority, their long-dormant expectations would be awoken instantly. Beholding an apparently all-powerful Starmer, they would demand transformed public services, an end to waiting lists, decent social care, an NHS dentist on every high street, a precipitate fall in crime — the list goes on.

Were Starmer and his new Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, to protest that there was no money to pay for this new Jerusalem, they would be told, in effect, to go and get some. It is difficult for a prime minister with a majority of 250 to argue plausibly that his hands are tied. Temperamentally circumspect and pragmatic, Starmer would find himself under immense public pressure to be very radical, very quickly. Nobody, including the Labour leader himself, can predict how he would respond to the sudden return of public hope to the jaded political landscape; how he would manage the reawoken dreams of the nation.

The sting in the tail is that a huge majority is no guarantee of victory at the subsequent election. In October 1929, Baldwin lost 152 seats and was replaced by MacDonald as PM.

Today’s politics are considerably more volatile than they were a century ago — as is clear from Starmer’s own remarkable transformation of Labour from the smoking ruin he took over in 2020 to a party on the verge of office.

It is now entirely possible that he will achieve the largest Commons majority of modern times. The irony is that this may present him with his most daunting challenge yet.

Matthew d’Ancona is an Evening Standard columnist