Why Does Britain’s Upcoming Election, Expected to Be Its Most Significant in Decades, Feel So Unremarkable?


The excitement surrounding the British general election, announced in a downpour by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has been replaced by a sense of bewilderment and disillusionment. After years of political turmoil, the electorate was poised to elect a new government, one likely to unseat the Conservative party after 14 years in power. However, a recent betting scandal involving Conservative Party staffers has further dampened spirits. The party withdrew support from two candidates after allegations of insider trading on the election timing emerged. While Labour has also faced a similar scandal, the situation has reinforced the feeling that this election is lacking in excitement.

Despite the potential for a seismic shift in power, the election has been described as “dull” by several media outlets. The Economist labeled it a “non-event,” while the Financial Times called it a “damp squib.” The London Review of Books offered a similar assessment, calling it a “bore.”

This lack of excitement stems partly from the perceived certainty of Labour’s victory. Labour has maintained a double-digit lead in polls for over 18 months, a lead that has not narrowed even as the election nears. While the number of seats Labour is projected to win varies, all pollsters predict a decisive victory. The Conservatives, acknowledging their likely defeat, have warned voters against handing Labour a “supermajority,” a term that holds less significance in the British context.

However, there are other factors contributing to the muted political atmosphere. The media’s focus on polls has overshadowed substantive policy discussions, and both Labour and the Conservatives have been hesitant to elaborate on their plans. Their manifestos lack detail on addressing critical issues like the cost-of-living crisis and the ailing National Health Service. The Conservatives have focused on proposals like “National Service” for young people, increased defense spending, and tax cuts for pensioners. Labour has made vague promises of “change,” “stopping the chaos,” and “restoring hope,” while avoiding concrete commitments on taxes and spending. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out the lack of specificity in both parties’ platforms, suggesting voters will be left “in a knowledge vacuum.”

Anand Menon, director of U.K. in a Changing Europe, argues that “there isn’t a significant ideological gulf between the two parties.” He attributes the lack of excitement to the absence of “real exciting policy being discussed” and a general sense that “they’re not really going to change anything.”

The leaders themselves have contributed to the lackluster atmosphere. Neither Sunak nor Labour leader Keir Starmer are charismatic figures. During a recent debate, a voter even questioned if they were “really the best we’ve got?”

This lack of charisma may be a result of deliberate strategy. When Sunak became prime minister, he pledged to bring stability after the chaos of his predecessors. Similarly, Starmer promised pragmatic and competent leadership after inheriting a party of protest. Initially, their managerial and technocratic approaches were seen as assets. However, that perception has shifted.

“We don’t have inspirational, charismatic leaders,” Menon says of Sunak and Starmer. “They’re both really technocratic. They’re both really boring. They’re both clearly really uncomfortable doing the stuff politicians do, like debates and speeches.”

The lack of enthusiasm surrounding the election is perhaps due, in part, to the leadership. Menon notes that “It’s not just a seismic election because the Tories look like they’re going to get absolutely thrashed. It’s a seismic election because the stakes are really, really high and you’re going to have someone winning by a landslide who isn’t very popular.”

While some argue that boring politics is preferable after years of instability, the lack of excitement could lead to disillusionment if it is not accompanied by meaningful change. The ongoing economic and social challenges require bold solutions, but the current political landscape is characterized by a lack of vision and ambition.

“The problems are so big, the public are so volatile,” Menon says, warning that even with a landslide victory, Labour’s support “will likely be very shallow. The whole thing is very, very fragile.”