Lewis Goodall on when we'll actually get to elect a Prime Minister

Lewis Goodall on when we’ll actually get to elect a Prime Minister

Lewis Goodall | Global

Lewis Goodall | Global

When is the election most likely to be?

November 14 or 21. I’ve always thought the chances of a spring election were being massively overplayed. The fundamentals haven’t changed. The Conservatives remain around 20 points behind in the polls and that hasn’t changed in a long time. If Sunak wanted a spring election he’d have to dissolve Parliament by mid-March. No prime minister would go to the country when they’re so far behind. They always hang on and hope for the best, and opt for almost certain defeat later rather than certain defeat now. So I think the latest possible date that isn’t too close to Christmas is most likely — which leads us to mid-November. That’ll mean we have the closest UK and US election since 1964.

Is there any way that Labour could still lose?

Of course. Politics is unpredictable and that’s what Sunak is hoping for and why he’ll hang on — that something comes along and changes the game. As Labour’s lead sustains and the election draws closer, the weight of scrutiny on Starmer and Labour will get heavier. Many of the party’s plans remain sketchy and those around Starmer are concerned at least part of their lead is soft. And remember how far they have to go: so poor was their 2019 election result that they need the biggest swing in postwar history just to get a majority of one. That said the SNP is also in trouble in Scotland, which helps Labour and no party has ever been so far ahead before an election and gone on to lose. So they should be confident but not complacent.

Let’s assume for the minute Labour does definitely win. What should Keir Starmer’s priorities be for his first few months?

Starmer and his team know that they will be judged on the economy and public services. If they cannot begin to turn around 20 years of sclerotic growth and stagnant living standards they won’t have the money to spend to revive public services and in four years they will lose. I would go for planning reform. It’s almost impossible to build anything in this country — it’s free and actually could make a difference. 

Is simply ‘at least we’re not the current lot’ ever enough for a political party to be offering? Is Labour an exciting enough proposition for the electorate?

Yes it is. We actually don’t do changes of government in this country very often. I know that reads weird after the past few years of mutiny on the bounty but think about it: we’ve only kicked a main party out three times since 1979. On each of those occasions it has largely been a repudiation of incumbent rather than any great enthusiasm for the alternative. Even 1997, which people remember as being a great positive endorsement of Tony Blair, actually if you go back and read the newspapers, coverage and polling of the time, you see people were far more lukewarm than you might remember.

What’s your impression of how involved Blair/Campbell are in an advisory capacity behind the scenes?

I think they’re both involved but it can be overstated. Labour has a fantastic record in losing elections. The last time Labour won an election when Tony Blair wasn’t leader was 1974. Only three men have ever won the party a majority. So it’s natural that team Starmer would consult Blair and those who were instrumental to his three victories, especially as Blair’s own domestic reputation has improved in recent years. That said those around Starmer are well aware that the conditions in which Blair dominated are long gone and they have to write their own cheque.

Were you — God forbid — a Tory MP, who would you want to see as the next leader of the party?

It may be the kiss of death for her so I’m reluctant to curse her but I think Alicia Kearns is one of the most impressive MPs in Parliament right now. She’s got a really interesting background, is likeable and has a formidable intellect and experience. I suspect though that rather than opting for someone so sensible the party will become more extreme in opposition.

What do you think Sunak’s next move will be after leaving office, and how quickly do you think he will action it? Will he, as is often predicted, head straight off to California/San Francisco to work in tech?

I can’t imagine we’ll see much of him. I suspect he’ll leave Parliament shortly after the election and will land a big corporate job, probably in the United States. He’s still young for politics and already climbed to the top of the tree. The only exception to this might be if Labour wins narrowly without a majority and another election looks likely in short order, it’s possible, though not likely, that in those circumstances he might stick around.

And finally: is an extended period of competent-but-boring government not going to be bad news for business when it comes to The News Agents and the plethora of other political podcasts?? Have the Tories of the past few years not, paradoxically, been kind of a gift to you, Emily and Jon?

Ha, well this is the great question! There is no doubt that nearly a decade of political chaos in Britain and beyond has meant great business for journalists. The question is whether a change of personnel brings the chaos to an end. That hasn’t proven to be the case for the Conservatives, despite the fact they’ve shifted prime minister from the pandemonium-ridden Johnson and Truss to Sunak. American politics hasn’t stabilised much despite Trump being ejected from office. Many of the factors that have driven our more turbulent politics — whether it’s the culture war, technology, the rise of social media, stagnant living standards, turbulent geopolitics — will remain. The old normal that people often pine for has gone. So I’m not planning on hanging up my microphone any time soon.