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‘Things Can Only Get Better’? An Insight into the UK General Election 2024

Updated: Jun 21

As the rain fell on Downing Street on 22 May, 2024, soaking the shoulders of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the sound of activists blasting the New Labour Anthem ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ over a loudspeaker, set the tone for a pivotal political moment as the Conservative leader called for the upcoming General Election on 4 July, 2024. 


Sunak as Prime Minister had the power until 17 December, 2024 to call the election, marking five years since parliament first met after the last General Election in 2019 which saw the Conservative Party win with a majority of 365 seats. Sunak asked King Charles to dissolve Parliament, triggering a six-week election period now in full action. In the span of just under five years, and under the leadership of four different Prime Ministers, the UK has experienced significant upheavals. Since 2019, the country secured Brexit, navigated the global COVID-19 pandemic, intervened in international conflicts, mourned the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and dealt with the Downing Street ‘Partygate’ scandal involving numerous members of the Conservative Party.


Expectations for an Autumn election were high amongst the public, which would have allowed the Tories some time to monitor the impact of their tax cuts, with inflation down to its lowest rate in 3 years, as well as time to usher the first planes out to Rwanda on the controversial Tory £500m asylum scheme. Despite this, Sunak announced that no flights to Rwanda will occur before the general election. Yet, Tories stay committed to a “regular rhythm” of asylum flights to Rwanda, to “halve migration”. In stark contrast, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has claimed Labour will not deport migrants to Rwanda if they win the election, and that they will set up a border force command using £75m from the existing budget for the Rwanda scheme.


With 650 constituency areas across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and a record number of 4,500 candidates standing, this year’s election will see a 35.7% increase in the polls, according to data from BBC News. The UK general election is open to 18-year-olds and older, yet the opposition party Labour claims that if they are put in power, they will also allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in general elections.


In their first head-to-head leaders’ TV debate on 6 June, Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak presented starkly contrasting visions for Britain. Starmer's Labour manifesto is ambitious, emphasising a robust plan for economic growth to "get Britain building again" by achieving the highest sustained growth in the G7. Labour's focus extends to revitalising the NHS with more evening and weekend appointments, tackling serious violence, and improving education by recruiting 6,500 new teachers funded by ending tax breaks for private schools. In contrast, Sunak's Tory manifesto centralises on a clear plan for a "secure future" through significant policy changes such as introducing “a bold new model of National Service for 18-year-olds” states Sunak, which is designed to appeal to core Tory voters. The Conservative leader also vowed to increase defence spending and aims to address economic concerns by pledging to keep inflation low and proposing the long-term abolition of National Insurance for the self-employed. The debate illuminated critical points of contention, particularly over tax policies, NHS strikes, and education reforms, with each leader advocating dramatically different approaches to Britain's future challenges.


Both party leaders have faced scrutiny during the electoral campaign. PM Sunak received intense backlash for leaving the D-Day 80th anniversary celebrations in Normandy early to participate in a pre-recorded interview with ITV for the Conservative Party campaign. Critics, including Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey, condemned the decision as disrespectful to veterans, commenting that “Rishi Sunak abandoned them [the veterans] on the beaches of Normandy” whilst Scottish First Minister John Swinney called it “a truly, breathtakingly terrible decision”. Sunak later apologised on social media, admitting, "On reflection, it was a mistake not to stay in France longer - and I apologise”. He added, “This anniversary should be about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The last thing I want is for commemorations to be overshadowed by politics”. 


Sir Keir Starmer has also faced political controversy over Labour MP Diane Abbott’s candidacy. Abbott, who sits as an independent MP, was suspended by Labour over alleged comments of antisemitism in 2023.  Ending days of speculation about the veteran’s political future, on 31 May, Starmer confirmed that Abbott, the first female black MP in the UK is “free to go forward as a Labour candidate” despite the day prior Abbott stating that “Labour wants to exclude me from Parliament”. This follows a tense standoff between Abbott and the Labour leadership, amid broader accusations of a “purge” of left-wing candidates by Starmer. The Labour leader has faced scrutiny not only from the opposition but also from within his own party. Deputy leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner stated to Sky News “I do not see any reason why Diane Abbott can’t stand as a Labour MP”, asserting that Starmer is not acting “in a factional way”.  


Whilst the Conservatives and Labour stand dominant in the polls, other party leaders remain dedicated to their electoral campaigns across the country to promote their manifestos and engage potential voters. Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey has presented “a manifesto to save the NHS”, pledging £9 billion annually by 2028 for 8,000 more GPs and free home social care for the elderly, alongside scrapping the Rwanda Plan. Green Party leader Carla Denyer asserts the party is committed to freezing rent, offering free school meals to all students, and abolishing university tuition fees. Nigel Farage announced that he would run for election in Clacton after assuming leadership of the Reform UK Party on June 3, 2024, and expressed with confidence that there is “every chance” Reform UK could get more votes than the Tories. He and his party aim to increase the tax-free income threshold from £12,571 to £20,000 and offer tax relief on healthcare, alongside a "one in, one out" immigration policy for “non-essential” immigration. 

With 54 contestable seats in Scotland, newly appointed First Minister John Swinney of the Scottish National Party views this election as a crucial opportunity to "remove the Tories from government" and "put Scotland's interests first", with aspirations to achieve independence for Scotland and reverse Brexit, in an election that is “the biggest challenge the SNP have had for years”, according to Swinney.

With polls indicating a comfortable lead for Labour and less than two weeks until election day, the nation stands at a crossroads, facing a crucial decision: will the Conservatives extend their 14-year reign, or will Labour take the helm and fulfil their assertion that ‘Things Can Only Get Better’? The outcome will shape the future of the UK, making this election one of the most consequential in UK political history.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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