2024, a General Election Year

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2024, a General Election Year

2024, a General Election Year

Ross Raftery 28 Feb 2024
2024 is - almost certainly - a General Election (GE) year[i]. As it has been in the two previous elections, housing is widely expected to be one of the key battle grounds for votes. Indeed, in a higher-interest rate environment and the post-pandemic cost of living crisis, it is likely to be an even more significant concern for voters than it has been previously.
In this new series, we will distil what we know about the upcoming GE and its potential influence on future policy for the delivery of homes. We will track what the main political parties are saying at key stages in the build up to the election, including analysing their manifestos and key announcements; reviewing the situation before and immediately after the GE; and then once the dust has settled and the cabinet is announced.


When will the GE happen?

This is in the hands of one person - Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – and while he has indicated that it is his ‘working assumption’ that the election will be in the second half of 2024, we approach this question with an open mind.
To set the context, the latest YouGov voting intention figures[ii] reveal a convincing lead for Labour (44%) over the Conservatives (23%). This trend follows a shift in balance in December 2021, which became more pronounced in September 2022 and has remained consistent since.
The by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood last week, have further demonstrated a significant shift of Conservative voters to Labour and other parties including Reform. With Labour achieving a gain of 19.5% in Wellingborough to the Conservative’s loss of 37.6%, and an 11.5% gain for Labour in Kingswood, compared to the Conservative’s 21.3% loss.
Sunak will want to see this gap narrow before calling an election, and so the timing for an election could depend on events that rebalance these polls, if there are circumstances where it looks that favour for Labour begins to wane. Other key considerations for the Prime Minister will include performance against his five priorities:

  1. Growing the economy;
  2. Halving inflation;
  3. Reduce national debt;
  4. Stopping small boat immigration; and,
  5. Cutting NHS waiting lists.

For the practical reasons involved in holding a GE, it is unlikely to be held in either summer 2024 or late December 2024/January 2025. In particular, leaving the GE to January would mean election campaigning over Christmas, which is unlikely to be popular for either candidates or the electorate, and the dark winter nights in late January could see a lower turnout.

This leaves two broad schools of thought:
  • The ‘go early’ camp (now until late June, but most likely May 2024): Many local and mayoral elections (including in London) are already scheduled to be held on 2 May, so this approach would be both financially more efficient and follow a trend for previous GE’s. Coinciding local and GE results means a single set of results, avoiding the risk of poor local election results impacting on a subsequent GE. This could also be well-timed to follow the Spring budget (6 March). However, this would give little time for the opinion polls to change, or for Sunak to demonstrate the Government’s performance against its commitments.
  • The ‘go late’ camp (late September to mid-December): Assuming that the GE isn’t left until January 2025, the logic for an autumn 2024 election would be the additional time that Sunak has to narrow the gap to Labour on the issues set out above, or even see a reversal of polling fortunes from currently unforeseen factors. In this scenario, there are also considerations relating to clashes with the US election (5 November), which Whitehall is understood to have warned cabinet ministers against due to the associated potential security risks, and how a GE might factor into Party conference season in October. If November is avoided due to simultaneous elections in two of the Five Eyes nations, it could indicate an early election within this window.

What’s at stake?

The housing crisis facing the country is a matter well covered elsewhere and there is little sign of improvements in housing delivery that will see us achieve the target of 300,000 homes per annum[iii].
Indeed, our colleague, Bethan Haynes’, analysis of the latest ONS projections[iv] provides a further stark reminder of our future housing need. These latest ONS figures project England’s population to reach 63.5m by 2040 and, over the next decade, annual population growth is expected to be higher than any of the previous sets of projections, at 361,000 per year.
The GE and a new government – regardless of colour – could provide a mandate for bold decisions to be taken which step up to the challenge of meeting our housing need. While we will need to continue to track what’s being said by each party, there are already some signs of big moves in this arena.


What’s being said already (about housing)?

We are at an early stage for this analysis – manifestos haven’t been published and campaigning hasn’t yet begun in earnest. However, we’ve reviewed key movements that are already being made for the three main parties.

Position on housing delivery

While there isn’t a manifesto for the Conservatives, their live and proposed policies can give an indication of their future strategy for housing. The government still maintains a target of delivering 300,000 new homes per year. However, in NPPF policy changes in December 2023, the ‘standard methodology’ was clarified as an ‘advisory starting-point’, and the need to review Green Belt boundaries in the preparation of a local plan was removed. The implication of both of these policy changes being that achieving the target of 300,000dpa is likely to be even more challenging.
The government has subsequently announced further proposed changes to the NPPF that would expect local planning authorities to give significant weight to the benefits of delivering as many homes as possible, and to be flexible in applying policies or guidance on the internal layout of developments especially for proposals on brownfield land.

Position on housing delivery

Labour has set ‘five missions’ already; the first of which is to ‘Get Britain building again’ and demonstrates the priority that Labour is giving this topic. It wants to reform planning laws to build 1.5m more houses within the first five years, with first time buyers getting first dibs. This would include reintroducing mandatory housebuilding targets for local authorities.

Position on housing delivery

In their Autumn Conference 2023, the Liberal Democrats set out their approach to tackling the housing crisis. They set a target for building 150,000 social homes a year; to build 10 new garden cities; and to expand neighbourhood planning and have more democratic engagement in Local Plans. At the same time, Liberal Democrat members voted against the party’s leadership’s proposal to remove its national housebuilding target of 380,000 homes a year.
While these movements give a helpful indication of the likely direction of the three main parties, the reality depends not just on who is in Number 10, but also the size of any majority or the effect of a potential coalition.
Without a majority, the internal tensions that exist within each party could come to the fore. This has been seen within the current Conservative Government, which has maintained its target of delivering 300,000 new homes a year, even though specific policy changes that appease alternative internal views could be seen to undermine the ability to achieve this target.
These potential internal tensions will be particularly important if there is no landslide win, and the resultant Prime Minister ends up beholden to their backbenches.


Our ‘manifesto pledge’

This series of blogs could be relatively short if the ‘go-early’ camp is correct, or we could continue monitoring this GE-build up well into the winter. While its longevity is out of our control, our pledge is to use this series to monitor housing as a key area of election focus, and seek to interpret what it could mean for the industry.
In doing so – given the scale of the housing crisis facing the country – our only allegiance through this series will be an objective view on what will help deliver the homes we need.


[i] The last possible date for a GE is 28 January 2025, but it is generally considered unlikely to be left until this 11th hour, and in the past century a GE has never been held in January.

[ii] https://yougov.co.uk/politics/articles/48526-voting-intention-con-23-lab-44-30-31-jan-2024

[iii] https://lichfields.uk/blog/2023/december/20/housing-need-cannot-be-ignored-like-an-unwanted-christmas-present

[iv] https://lichfields.uk/blog/2024/january/30/getting-right-back-to-where-we-started-from-what-do-the-latest-record-high-ons-projections-suggest-about-housing-need

[v] https://labour.org.uk/missions/economic-growth/

[vi] https://www.libdems.org.uk/news/article/tackling-housing-crisis

[vii] https://news.sky.com/story/lib-dem-members-reject-party-plan-to-scrap-national-housing-target-12969909