As Rishi fires the starting gun on a six-week election Ivor Gaber makes a few predictions

OK, so I know that elections aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but I have to admit that when rumours started swirling around Westminster on Wednesday that Rishi might just be tempted to cut and run – I was excited.

At this stage, barring a dramatic turnaround, the overall result looks like it's nailed on for Labour which, in these parts, could result in a fair few seats changing hands, in contrast to 2019 when none did.

The polling company Electoral Calculus undertakes detailed constituency-by-constituency research and on current numbers they predict that the Liberal Democrats would capture Eastbourne and Lewes from the Tories, that the two Worthing seats, Peter Bottomley’s West Worthing and East Worthing and Shoreham would switch from Conservative to Labour, whilst Labour would take Crawley, Hastings and Chichester from the Tories and, on these calculations, even Sussex Weald is predicted to go Labour (though that I’ll believe when I see it).

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If all this was all to come to pass, Labour would win nationally with a massive landslide – but, and it’s a big but, these are just predictions made before the six-week campaign has barely begun and should be treated with some caution.

Sunak is clearly hoping that the recent good news about the economy - inflation down, as are energy bills, wages up and the economy again growing - will produce a feelgood factor with the voters. Certainly the economic outlook for the autumn, when most expected Sunak to go to the country, is looking far less positive but there a number of reasons why his gamble might well not pay off.

First, although Labour faces an even bigger electoral mountain to climb than that which faced Tony Blair in 1997, the mountain they have to climb might not be as steep as it first appears. This is because the party’s support has grown in those places that it needed to grow. In the past it has tended to pile up votes in safe seats and lose narrowly in marginals. But today, in Labour’s key target seats - the ‘red wall’ seats in the Midland and the North that gave Boris Johnson such a rich harvest in 2019 – the party needs to be just a few points ahead to flip all (or almost of all of them) back to Labour.

Then there are the polls, might they just be plain wrong? It’s possible but it would be unprecedented if they were to be so wrong as to negate the current twenty point gap, although that will almost certainly narrow during the campaign, but it is extremely doubtful if it will be enough to push the Tories over the winning line.

This is because in the event of a hung parliament the Conservatives would find few if any allies to give them a working majority, whilst Labour, on the other hand, could look to the Lib Dems, the Greens or even (just possibly) the SNP to provide them with the parliamentary support they might need to enable them to form a government.

Having said all this there always remains the possibility – no matter how unlikely - of Labour imploding during the campaign - maybe not a catastrophic implosion but enough to plant some serious doubts in the minds of the elusive 00swing voters.

One such mini-implosion might be over the Middle East. If the current terrible situation deteriorates still further then the current fissures in the party could become great yawning chasms. Another might be because the police decide that Deputy Leader Angela Rayner acted improperly over the sale of her council house and failed to pay the necessary tax - although Labour insiders are increasingly confident that such a course of action is unlikely.

These are the more or less predictable dangers for Labour, the other, far more dangerous ones, are the unpredictable, those to which former prime minister Harold Macmillan referred to, when answering an interviewer who asked him what kept him awake at night, when he replied(in his best upper class drawl) ‘Events dear boy, events.

Almost every election campaign I’ve covered – and that takes us back to the last century – has had these ‘events’ that have thrown politicians off-message. What they’ll be this time round is anybody’s guess but whether or not they will be of sufficient significance to affect the overall result, I doubt. So at this stage I make the very uncontroversial prediction that, ‘events’ notwithstanding, Labour will win.

Ivor Gaber is Professor of Political Journalism at the University of Sussex and a former Westminster political correspondent