Labour has sustained a 20-point poll lead all year, completely confounding Tory hopes of a recovery
One member of the cabinet likes to amuse himself at meetings with his civil servants by making ludicrous statements in order to test whether the officials can stop themselves laughing in his face. “In the highly unlikely event that the Conservatives lose the election and Labour forms the next government,” he will begin a sentence and watch as his staff “struggle to stifle their sniggers”.
The notion that the Tories will be returned to power for what would be a fifth consecutive term has become more snigger-worthy as this year has unfolded. That is the core explanation for the evaporation of Conservative faith in Rishi Sunak and the strengthening of Sir Keir Starmer’s authority over Labour. This was not universally regarded as a given when the year began. Back in January, it was possible to find Tory optimists able to muster a case that Labour’s poll lead would begin to shrivel. The idea that Mr Sunak might have it in him to pull off an against expectations rebound, replicating what John Major did in the run-up to the 1992 election, was much discussed. It was not hard to find Labour worriers who feared their party would contrive to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.