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The Field View 2024

31 January 2024
| by Field Team

The latest Field View event saw a panel of journalists and business leaders gaze into a crystal ball and offer predictions for the year ahead.

Over breakfast and coffee at the Ivy Club we were joined by the Sun’s political editor Harry Cole, Rachel Cunliffe, associate political editor at the New Statesman, and CBI campaigns director and ex-Lib Dem SpAd, John Foster.

What do the Conservative Party, the England football team and Taylor Swift have in common?

One way or another, this feels like a pivotal year for all three. In fact for all of us, 2024 feels like a change year. More people will go to the ballot box around the world than ever before, with the UK and America both going to the polls in the same year for the first time since 1992. This side of the Atlantic all signs point to a change in Number 10, and not just a new Prime Minister, but in all likelihood a comprehensive swing in the balance of power which historically only happens once in a generation. Like a football team building up to an international tournament, or a pop star preparing for a sell-out world tour, it feels like the past few years in the political cycle have been leading up to this one. With all flanks of the political spectrum covered, Field’s Chris Rumfitt grilled our panel on the changes we can expect.

First things first - when will the general election actually take place? Rachel gave us the Labour perspective: the election, they claim, is nailed on for May. The Tories have telegraphed their tax cuts to fill voters’ pockets in time for a Spring. Of course, Labour would say this whether they believe it or not: by claiming to expect May they stay one step ahead of the game. If Rishi fails to call one, they can accuse him of bottling it. But is Spring completely out of the question? As John pointed out, we may end up going to the polls sooner than expected whether the Prime Minister likes it or not. If Tory infighting flares up again and unsustainable pressure is placed on Sunak, he may have no choice but to call it. It all comes down to how safe the Prime Minister thinks he is: if a leadership challenge feels likely, 

Sunak could jump before he is pushed.

A November election would mean a vote on both sides of the pond in the space of a week. On current polling, the immediate future of the Special Relationship could fall under the custody of Keir Starmer and Donald Trump - the oddest of political couples. Harry Cole questioned whether that prospect could play badly for Labour, as matters of defence and national security are still a bruise that has still yet to heal for the party since the Corbyn regime. Starmer has made much of his newly detoxified Labour Party, but the risk remains that stability overseas, and a tangible security threat at home, could bring voters home to the assumed safety of the Conservatives.

Beyond national security, however, there is a consensus that things look bleak wherever Sunak looks. Our panel agreed: there is no silver bullet. “Rishi is in a real bind”, Harry said. With scores of MPs standing down and even more facing inevitable defeat, there is a sense backbenchers have little to lose. That leads to disparate groups starting up: now, any new policy will fall foul of one of the so-called Five Families, and any lever left to pull will upset a faction. The Conservatives have the Lib Dems looking to sweep up the home counties and west country, and Reform breathing down their necks from the right. Number 10 have so far failed to carve out a path between them, and show little sign of doing so. Rishi has tried to "be the change”, and then appointed David Cameron six weeks later. As Harry pointed out, this is the man who lost to Liz Truss, and has only ever won a campaign in the safest of Tory seats.

But will it really be smooth sailing for Starmer? Rachel pointed out a hung Parliament is still a very real possibility. John agreed business shouldn’t rule out another coalition: for the first time since 2015 and impressing your policy asks onto the Liberal Democrat front bench may well be a very fruitful use of time. Harry warned there is also the possibility of two elections in quick succession: if Labour cannot muster the healthy majority needed to govern, going back to the country may be preferable than leaning on the party’s left wing, and risk the regular sight of John McDonnell strolling into Number 10 with a long list of demands. Yet our panel agreed that even a hung parliament feels some way off for the Government as it stands, and a real risk exists of things getting worse before they get better, with cracks in the party widening as the year goes on. “Parties that sense victory tend to pull together”, as Rachel put it, “and parties that smell defeat tend to fall apart.” Our panel agreed the Conservatives feel doomed to spend 2024 in the second bracket.

To wrap up, we pushed our panellists for some predictions. Election result? A comfortable Labour majority said Rachel and John, with even Harry having to concede Keir Starmer would likely be Prime 

Minister sometime this year, even if a hung parliament is secured “by hook or by crook.” How quickly can the Conservatives bounce back? That would of course depend on the scale of the defeat. While Starmer has shown how much can be achieved in one Parliament, a true tonking could see the party in opposition for a decade or more. And who will the Conservatives turn to as their leader in Opposition? Based on our admittedly limited sample size of three, Kemi Badenoch will beat James Cleverley two votes to one. Get your bets on.

With the politics out the way, we turned to the really pressing matters of the day. Will Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce see out 2024 as a couple? Our panel feel they have a fighting chance. Less so for the Duke of Sussex and the King: we could see no route to a royal reunion this year between Harry and Charles. Having covered the fortunes of the Conservative Party and Taylor Swift, we turned to the single biggest question which hangs over 2024. Will England win the Euros? Cautious optimism will prevail to begin with, our panel predicted, snowballing into a wave of positivity that sweeps the nation as the tournament goes on  - only for us to lose to the first decent side we come up against.

As we enter 2024, a year of momentous change affecting almost every aspect of our lives, it’s comforting to remember some things remain constant.

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