Tories concede defeat with 24 hours until general election polls open

In an astonishing admission by work and pensions secretary Mel Stride on the eve of polling day, he said Sir Keir Starmer is likely to win more seats than Tony Blair in 1997

Archie Mitchell,Kate Devlin
Wednesday 03 July 2024 13:55 BST
Rishi Sunak makes last-ditch plea to stop 'unchecked' Labour winning election

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A cabinet minister has said Labour is heading for the biggest general election landslide in history, effectively throwing in the towel before polls have even opened.

In an extraordinary admission on the eve of polling day, work and pensions secretary Mel Stride said Sir Keir Starmer is on course to win a Commons majority with more seats than Sir Tony Blair in 1997.

That would leave the Tories with a handful of MPs and facing the danger of extinction. He alluded to the 1931 election in which Labour leader Ramsey Macdonald led the National Government to victory with a record 492 majority.

Mr Stride also said the opinion polls suggested Labour would win by a bigger margin than Sir Tony’s 178-seat majority, which saw Labour secure 418 seats..

Far from pitching the Conservatives as a party that can win, he said people should back the Tories as an opposition force “so we can hold this government to account going forward”.

Click here for our live coverage of the general election campaign.

Multiple polls suggest Labour Party is set for a historic victory on Thursday, with election experts at Survation suggesting there was a 99 per cent chance the party will take more than 418 seats, the number it achieved 27 years ago.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride has effectively conceded defeat in Thursday’s general election
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride has effectively conceded defeat in Thursday’s general election (PA Wire)

Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Stride, who has been one of Rishi Sunak’s most loyal lieutenants during the election campaign, said: “Unless it's an extraordinary upset, which is highly unlikely, you're going to get a Labour government, you're going to get the change.”

He added: “We're not only going to get a Labour government, we're going to get a kind of supermajority, which is going to be this country with effectively a government that is not being held to account because the opposition is too small, too marginalised, too weak.

“And what we have to have is some balance within our parliament. And I think that is genuinely what is in play now.”

Referring to the 1931 election won by the National Government, he said it was vital to have enough Tory MPs left to challenge Labour.

Mr Stride said: ”I totally accept that where the polls are at the moment means that tomorrow is likely to see the largest Labour landslide majority this country has ever seen - much bigger than 1997, bigger even than the National Government of 1931.

“What therefore matters now is what kind of opposition we have and what ability to scrutinise government is there within parliament.”

In1931, Mr Macdonald led a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals, winning 554 of 615 Commons seats. In 1997, Tony Blair won with a 179 Commons majority, with the Conservatives reduced to 165 seats.

Mr Stride’s comments are the latest and most gloomy in a series of warnings by Conservative leaders who have given up on winning and are now focussed on avoiding a total wipe out - or Labour “super majority”.

Sir Keir said the warnings from top Tories including Mr Stride amount to “voter suppression”. The Labour leader said: “I think the Tories have run a very negative campaign and they’re failing to answer the question of what positive change they bring for the country.”

Pressed further, Sir Keir said: “It’s more of the same, it’s really voter suppression, it’s trying to get people to stay at home rather than to go out and vote.

“I say if you want change, you have to vote for it. I want people to be part of the change.”

It came as Suella Braverman urged the Conservative Party to “read the writing on the wall” and “prepare for the reality and frustration of opposition”. The party had to rediscover its “soul” and reconnect with the right to win votes, she warned.

Within hours, senior Tories hit back at her intervention. One former cabinet minister told The Independent: “I don’t know what she is thinking”. Another accused her of trying to burnish her diminishing credentials, which are thought to have diminished in recent weeks, suggesting it was the “last throw of the dice”.

A day before the general election, the former home secretary declared “it’s over” for the Tories and urged the party to conduct “a searingly honest post-match analysis” after its widely expected defeat.

A minister rejected the suggestion that the election is “over” for the Conservatives.

Andrew Griffith echoed Mr Stride’s warning that if the polls are correct, Labour will win a majority “unprecedented in modern history”.

But asked whether he agreed with Suella Braverman that it was over for the Tories, the science minister told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “No, not at all.”

He added: “Nobody should be taking the British people for granted.

“I think what Mel was talking about was the very real jeopardy of a Labour government.”

The two senior Tories admitting defeat came just hours after Mr Sunak and Boris Johnson appeared alongside each other at a rally for the Conservative faithful. Mr Sunak hailed the “united Conservative Party” and insisted that the election result was “not a foregone conclusion”.

Meanwhile Mr Johnson railed against Sir Keir’s Labour Party, warning it would “use a sledgehammer majority to destroy so much of what we have achieved”.

But, writing in The Telegraph, Ms Braverman said victory should no longer be the goal for the Tories.

“Thursday’s vote is now all about forming a strong enough opposition,” she wrote. “One needs to read the writing on the wall: it’s over, and we need to prepare for the reality and frustration of opposition.”

Ms Braverman blamed the situation on a fracture within the Conservative Party
Ms Braverman blamed the situation on a fracture within the Conservative Party (PA Wire)

Ms Braverman blamed the situation on a fracture within the Conservative Party resulting from a rise in Nigel Farage’s Reform UK.

She said: “It is notable that Labour’s vote share has not markedly increased in recent weeks, but our vote is evaporating from both Left and Right.

“The critics will cite Boris (Johnson), Liz (Truss), Rwanda, and, I can immodestly predict, even me as all being fatal to our ‘centrist’ vote.

“The reality is rather different: we are haemorrhaging votes largely to Reform. Why? Because we failed to cut immigration or tax or deal with the net zero and woke policies we have presided over for 14 years.

“We may lose hundreds of excellent MPs because of our abject inability to have foreseen this inevitability months ago: that our failure to unite the Right would destroy us.”

Ms Braverman said the Tories need “a searingly honest post-match analysis”, “because the fight for the soul of the Conservative Party will determine whether we allow Starmer a clear run at destroying our country for good or having a chance to redeem it in due course.

“Indeed, it will decide whether our party continues to exist at all.”

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch warned against letting Nigel Farage into the Conservative Party (Lucy North/PA)
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch warned against letting Nigel Farage into the Conservative Party (Lucy North/PA) (PA Wire)

The article will be seen as a premature pitch for the Tory leadership by Ms Braverman, positioning herself to be the champion of the party’s right wing after the election. She is likely to come up against business secretary Kemi Badenoch, among others, depending on which Tory big beasts manage to keep their seats on Thursday night.

Meanwhile Ms Badenoch’s camp has been hit by fears that delays sending out postal votes in her constituency could delay any potential bid for the Tory leadership.

Councils across the country are scrambling to ensure postal votes are delivered and returned on time amid concerns that some people could be left disenfranchised at the general election.

In Ms Badenoch’s North West Essex constituency, more than 2,600 postal ballots were not sent in time, leading to fears Labour could be entitled to challenge the result if she wins by a small margin.

That would force an immediate by-election, during which time Ms Badenoch would be ineligible to stand for the Tory leadership, The Times reported.

In her Telegraph article, Ms Braverman also lashed out at the Conservative Party for being willing to “fill our coffers” with money from Frank Hester after the Tory donor apologised for saying Diane Abbott “makes you want to hate all Black women” and “should be shot”.

She said Mr Sunak was right to call out racism exposed by Reform candidates, but “cries of hurt and anger look less powerful when the Conservative Party was perfectly happy to take the money from Frank Hester”.

She added: “Remarks about hating black women were glossed over in the name of filling our party coffers. I don’t follow the logic. Nor do the voters. Whatever ‘the smartest men in the room’ might privately think, the public are not in fact mugs.”

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