General Election 2024

Election panel: Can the Euros shift the polls?

Our panel of experts on how far moments of national pride impact politics

June 17, 2024
Jude Bellingham celebrates after scoring his first goal for England during the Uefa Euro 2024 tournament. Image: Zuma Press / Alamy
Jude Bellingham celebrates after scoring his first goal for England during the Uefa Euro 2024 tournament. Image: Zuma Press / Alamy

It’s election season. Prospect has invited writers and experts to an election group chat. Imagine a WhatsApp group of your most politically informed friends from across the ideological spectrum on-hand to discuss the biggest and smallest issues.

Last week, we asked our panellists whether there is any point to leaders debates. Today, fresh from England's 1-0 win against Serbia last night, we ask them about that other major competition taking place alongside the election: the Euros.

Alona Ferber: How much do moments of national pride—or disappointment—like the Euros, impact an election campaign? And which party has most to gain (or lose) from the Euros coinciding with this year's election?

Tim Bale: There’s next to no evidence that they make any major difference: England's loss to West Germany in 1970 wasn’t what cost Wilson re-election—there were plenty of other reasons for Heath pulling off a surprise victory. That said, these things are notoriously difficult to measure! If and when England crash out of the tournament (or lose in the final or semi-final, as per: on last night's performance, I can't see us beating Spain, Germany, or France), then that might, I suppose, add to the widespread feeling that “nothing works” in this country and so marginally benefit Labour. But personally, as both a footie fan and a politics nerd, I have my doubts.

Peter Hitchens: What did “England” win last night? I had no idea my country was in combat.

Matthew Lesh: I’m not sure the Euros will have a significant impact on the election campaign, even if England does well over the coming weeks. The public’s mind about this government seems largely already made up, and has been for some time. 

But I do think the national vibe can impact electoral outcomes. A bad vibe, the sense that things are bad and getting worse, does a lot of damage to incumbents. The sense that things have gone poorly over recent years, particularly after the cost-of-living crisis, is clearly helping to create a mood for “change”. A good vibe can have the opposite effect. Just see how Ronald Reagan used the sense that “It’s morning again in America” to win a landslide in 1984.

Frances Ryan: Football is somewhat unique in this country in the way it—or at least is said to—speak to the national character, particularly around patriotism, race and masculinity. Sometimes this can be positive, such as celebrating the diversity of the team or giving a sense of belonging or pride. Sometimes it can be highly negative. For example, when Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho missed penalties in 2021, they were greeted with racist abuse online. 

With the focus of much of the media on Nigel Farage this election and the Conservatives shifting slowly to a more populist approach, these nationalist forces feel closer to the surface in England than they have for some time. I keep my fingers crossed the worst we get is a photoshoot of Farage holding a pint alongside members of the public he pretends to like.

Tim Bale: Interestingly, mention of Farage reminds me that, if I recall correctly (and feel free to tell me I’m wrong), he hasn't made a serious attempt to jump on the Euros bandwagon (yet anyway). Presumably, judging by his background and his fondness for a Barbour, he‘s more of a rugby kinda guy?

Frances Ryan: I can’t imagine he could tell you the offside rule.

Tim Bale: Maybe he thinks that, rather than catching any attacking players offside, they can simply be turned back into their own half.

Marie Le Conte: The one thing I will say, and which I find to be a source of endless amusement, is that Keir Starmer is clearly a life-long, genuine football fan but, whenever he talks about it, ends up coming across as someone who just read the Wikipedia entry for “football” for the first time. I‘m not sure why that is and I do feel a bit bad for him, as I think that him being seen as a bona fide football fan right now would play well with voters.

Matt d’Ancona: I’m struck by how little political juice the party leaders are trying to squeeze from the Euro lemon this time. Compare and contrast the huge St George’s Flag which Boris Johnson plastered across Downing Street in 2021. I agree with Marie that Starmer’s inability to communicate his authentic obsession with the game is both comic and symptomatic of his public dullness. As has been endlessly argued, this dullness may be an electoral asset but I confess to some scepticism about that as a long-term proposition. In any case: I very much doubt this tournament is going to swing many votes one way or the other.

Philip Collins: Farage is quite a cricket fan but has no interest in football. Starmer did send the obligatory picture of him watching the football but I doubt it will matter much. Sunak is in a sense more interesting. He supports England at cricket which my half Indian and half English children regard as wholly inauthentic. I try to point out to them that he can hardly do anything else as PM. 

Zoe Grunewald: I don't think the football will change anything politically but it does offer us all a welcome distraction from this seemingly endless election campaign. That is until England loses, of course.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Tomorrow, our panel will be back to answer yet more burning questions about the general election. Got a question for our experts? Email