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  • Writer's pictureWill Grice

General Election, July 4th – Why Has Rishi Sunak Gambled for an Early Election?

On the morning of May 21st, rumours were swirling around Westminster and the political sphere that, finally, Rishi Sunak was going to call an election. It started off with scepticism, as we’ve been here many times before. There were expectations following the local election results and a lack of a challenge to Rishi Sunak’s leadership from within the Conservative Party that the Prime Minister was going to hold on until the autumn. However, as the day progressed, and news came that an untimetabled cabinet meeting had been scheduled, and ministers were told to clear their diaries, it seemed as though something was brewing. And then, it came. On the steps of a very rainy Downing Street, stood in front of a lectern with the blare of a noisy protestor’s speaker blasting ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ (the Labour Party’s election campaign song in 1997, when they won their landslide majority), Rishi Sunak put an end to the speculation. There will be a general election on July 4th, he confirmed.

Despite the unfortunate optics of the Prime Minister’s speech being drowned out, quite literally by rain and by a loudspeaker, Mr. Sunak appeared defiant and confident that this was the right time to call an election: ‘Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future’, he stated. Incidentally, a snap YouGov Poll from the same evening concurred with the Prime Minister, with around sixty-one-percent of Brits saying that he was right to call a general election. Yet, there is no doubt this is a bold move from Rishi Sunak. The logic for the Prime Minister to wait until the autumn was primarily that the economic outlook is expected to continue to improve following today’s news that inflation figures have fallen to 2.3%, the lowest in three years. However, the impact of this has yet to be felt by consumers, as prices in the supermarket are still very high, and therefore many people still feel as though their money is not going as far as it used to. If Mr. Sunak had chosen to call the election in November, there is a much better chance that the economic outlook would have continued to improve, and that this would have fed through to the public purse. Moreover, the Bank of England deputy confirmed this morning that a cut in the UK interest rate was ‘possible’ this Summer. This would have been more good news that the Prime Minister could have potentially used in an autumn election campaign, as lower interest rates mean that more Britons would be able to afford to get on the housing ladder.

Additionally, some Tory MPs feel as though the Prime Minister’s decision to hold an early election is short-sighted, with a longer wait and an improved fiscal position for the country more likely to salvage the Conservative Party. According to political editor Christopher Hope, several senior Conservative MPs are putting forward letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister in the hope of achieving the magic number required to call a vote. This is a way of halting the general election being held before parliament is dissolved.

On the other hand, you have to consider why the Prime Minister might have chosen to take such a gamble. There is no doubt that this decision would have been weighed up alongside waiting until the autumn, with Sunak and his advisers going over the positives and negatives of holding the election in the summer or the autumn. The most likely factors that swayed Mr. Sunak to a summer election are the inflation figures, which are almost back to the Bank of England’s set target of two-percent, and the hope on the Conservative benches that flights will soon be taking off to Rwanda – a key part of the ‘Stop the Boats’ pledge. By July 4th, the Prime Minister will be making the case that Britain’s economy is improving, and thus the public should stay the course with a government that has a plan for the economy. As set out in his speech, this will be a clear campaigning line from Mr. Sunak: ‘I don’t know what they [Labour] offer and in truth I don’t think you know either. And that’s because they have no plan, there is no bold action and as a result the future can only be uncertain with them.’ Sunak in his address also referenced the rate of the economy’s recovery, pointing out that the UK’s economy is growing faster than other countries in the G7.

Following the announcement of the election, Labour leader Keir Starmer decided not to battle the rain and instead addressed the nation from inside. Welcoming the Prime Minister’s decision, he called the election ‘an opportunity for change’ and stated that Labour’s offer ‘is to reset both our economy and our politics’. Here, the difference in messaging is clear. Keir Starmer is calling for a complete ‘reset’, a clean slate if you will, of the last fourteen years of successive Conservative governments, whereas Rishi Sunak is telling Brits that the best option is to stay the course for a more secure economy.

All in all, despite the fact that the Conservative Party are currently trailing 20 points behind Labour in the polls, Mr. Sunak decided to seize on the positive tides in the way of the economy in contrast to the uncertainty of waiting until the autumn. You could also make the argument that it isn’t a coincidence that the Prime Minister has chosen to have the election take place in the middle of a football tournament, with the dream of warm weather and a solid performance by the England team. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a very interesting six weeks of campaigning. Make sure you are registered to vote by going to the GOV.UK website, so that you can have your say on the fourth of July. It only takes a few minutes, and figures consistently show that youth turnout (18-24) is much lower than other age groups.


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