Rishi Sunak is struggling to get any part of his Conservative election campaign going well, with good news on the economy this week rapidly overshadowed by a Tory betting scandal which risked reminding voters once again of why so many seem to have to lost trust in the party.

Even fun photo ops are going wrong, as when the Prime Minister tried and failed to feed some sheep in north Devon, only to see them run away from him.

But more ominous for the Prime Minister than any developments on the campaign trail was the publication of multiple opinion polls – including the newfangled MRP seat-by-seat projections – which show the Tories on track for a historic wipeout.

These surveys differ in their details but each one suggests the governing party is likely to record its worst result in modern history, squeezed from the left by Labour and the Liberal Democrats and from the right by Reform UK.

The polling onslaught is inevitably colouring the campaign, as the Conservatives step up warnings of a “supermajority” for Labour – but both the main parties are sceptical about both the reliability and the impact of the recent headlines.

“We don’t believe these polls are quite right,” a Tory strategist told i. “We think they’re exaggerating how bad things are for us. The polls create a narrative of their own and it’s not correct. In France where they don’t allow polling to be published during election campaigns you get a different effect.”

The official added: “Yes, people are fed up of us, but there are still plenty of people who haven’t made up their minds about Keir Starmer. Whenever he gets asked about a different tax every single day we cheer because the tax stuff is really cutting through.”

An MP commented: “The polls do not reflect what I’m hearing on the doors. Is there some kind of conspiracy against Conservatives making the situation seem so dire that people will not vote on the basis of ‘what is the point’?” Another repeated a similar message, saying: “The polling is nowhere near what I’m picking up on the doorstep in the constituency.” In the most affluent areas, Tory incumbents are pushing hard against Labour’s promise to impose VAT on private school fees as a way of keeping wavering voters loyal.

One Conservative candidate insisted that the message being pushed by ministers that a Labour government with too large a majority could prove dangerous seemed to cut through with voters. “A lot of people are not set in stone,” they told i. “There’s a lot of people who are still thinking about who they are going to vote for. When you have conversations with people on the doors, they do come around when you warn them they are going to end up with a Labour MP.

“If you have a full slate of Labour MPs across the country, they won’t get a word in edgeways. With the polls the way they are, you can say realistically we are not going to end up with a Conservative government, but you can end up with a Conservative MP.”

Sir Keir Starmer is demonstrating increased confidence in his chances of a hefty Commons majority: the Labour leader’s schedule this week included a trip to Mr Sunak’s home town of Southampton and a rally in the bucolic setting of a home counties cricket club.

But privately, members of his inner circle acknowledge that the mega polls may not be entirely helpful for Labour, given the risk of complacency among left-leaning voters who may become less worried about the likelihood of evicting the Tories from office.

“Obviously the state of the polls is going to affect the campaign,” a senior Labour official said. “Our problem is convincing people that the election is not just all over. It reminds me of Brexit when people were told for weeks that Remain was going to win – and then Leave won, but the number of people who didn’t bother voting could have stopped that happening.”

The official also acknowledged that the huge swing against the Conservatives which appears to have occurred since the 2019 election could one day affect Labour too, saying: “The problem for us, if we get into power, will be how you govern at a time of much greater volatility.”

Party insiders are already thinking through the implications of a Parliament where there is little effective opposition within the Commons – perhaps even, as a handful of polls have suggested, with the Conservatives down in third place behind the Lib Dems.

The focus in that scenario could switch to the House of Lords, where the Tories will remain the largest party for the time being. A Labour source said: “With likely dissolution peerages, we’d be looking at close to 300 Tory peers – 100 or so more than us – but who wouldn’t be the official opposition!” The implications for how a Labour government would get its legislative agenda through the Upper House could prove unpredictable.

Scepticism over the polling picture extends to the public opinion industry itself. MRP polls, which combine a large sample size with complex statistical models to come up with a forecast for the result in each one of Great Britain’s 632 Commons constituencies, were pioneered by YouGov at the 2017 general election but are now being produced by multiple firms – albeit with starkly different results between different pollsters.

“I am a little bit embarrassed for the whole industry,” one polling company insider told i. “MRP polls are not like normal polls which people can read, examine and compare with their data. It’s data taken and put through a black box with all sorts of assumptions designed by individuals and no one can see what those assumptions are so it’s become all about the egos.

“Somebody is going to be very embarrassed when the results come in. In this election it probably won’t matter so much because it’ll be a Labour landslide but in a closer campaign they could be calling it completely wrong. Yes, it will be Tory annihilation – but there’s a big difference between 50 seats and 150.”

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and other party leaders are on the campaign trail, and i‘s election live blog is the go-to place for everything on the general election.

All the main parties have launched their manifestos: read i‘s breakdown of all the pledges from the Tories, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Reform UK.

i has urged the parties to commit to its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto to improve our waterways. The Lib Dems became the first to back the campaign, followed by the Green Party. Keir Starmer called the campaign ‘really important’ but stopped short of throwing full support behind it.

Labour insiders agree – a source said: “The problem now is it’s not just the polls, you also have these MRPs which are totally wild. The Tories are not going to end up on 36 seats or 70 seats or whatever it is. I can’t see them getting below 150.”

One under-discussed aspect of recent polling is the predicted surge for the Lib Dems, who are projected to leap from the 11 seats they won at the last election to 50 or more – quite possibly beating the record haul of 62 they bagged in 2005.

That seems to suit Sir Ed Davey’s party just fine. One insider said: “It kind of suits us, it helps us to stay below the radar because every time we get in the spotlight the right-wing media comes for us.”

Even if the direst polls are wide of the mark, there is no doubt Mr Sunak needs a reset. Polling day may not be until 4 July but votes are already being cast as postal ballots begin to be sent off.

“I think we are lucky with the timing because D-Day was a couple of weeks ago,” one Tory commented. “Had the votes gone out then it would have really affected us but I think [the postal votes will] be OK now.” That may prove only a small consolation to the Prime Minister.

2024-06-22T05:07:53Z dg43tfdfdgfd