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A snap election is Rishi Sunak’s last hope

Rishi Sunak speaks outside 10 Downing Street today

May 22, 2024 - 5:30pm

Having been dogged by election speculation for several months, Rishi Sunak has finally given the country the announcement it has been waiting for. Addressing the nation late this afternoon, his words competing with the speaker outside Downing Street playing D:Ream’s “Things Can Only Get Better”, he named the date of the upcoming general election as 4 July. The few upturns for the Tories this year were taken as a sign it was coming; the setbacks made the case for delaying, perhaps as late as January next year. Now the Prime Minister and his party are prepared to accept the fate that the public has been waiting to give them.

Going to the polls now suggests a triumph of realism in Number 10. Previously, the administration seemed clouded with hope — that something might turn up, that enough policy wiggles might move the dial and polls would narrow. It’s an approach largely refuted by reality. Despite the Budget, passing the Rwanda bill and multiple attempts to reset and relaunch, the polls remained stubbornly far apart. Sunak’s government is now barely more popular than when he took the helm after the precipitous Truss drop.

Calling an election now is an acceptance that only the short campaign, getting out on the doorstep with a new manifesto and forcing the country to really pick a side, might help. Besides that, the Government is out of options. Hanging on in this context was comforting, cherishing the idea that a miracle might happen. It was also self-delusion, and that has finally broken.

Another six months or more of holding out against reality would have made things worse. Small boat arrivals may surge this summer. Public services are continuing to slide into crisis, with prisons full and hospital waiting lists not getting any shorter. There’s more chance of things that harm a government than save it coming out of left field.

Everyone already knows that the Tories are deeply unpopular and destined to lose. Half a year of hanging on would have only fuelled the sense that Sunak was squatting in Downing Street, besieged by public opinion. As the Government dragged on, it would have supercharged what is already an entrenched sense of unpopularity.

Sunak has chosen to tackle this head-on. It’s a recognition that this is perhaps the best it is going to get for him. The return of inflation to 2.3% shows the PM has made progress on his goals. The Bank of England most likely deserves the credit, and people are stinging from price rises that have already happened — but at least it’s something. He can perhaps also celebrate falling applications for healthcare visas, before the consequences kick in to services. Moving now might just be enough to push the Tory vote upwards, even if only a little.

It’s a slim pitch, but it’s a recognition that the pitch is only going to get slimmer as the year drags on. The Tories will now hope that Labour might collapse, or that the reality of a Keir Starmer premiership could shore up their support. “Remember 2017, a lot can change,” will be their mantra for the next few weeks. For Sunak, the best time to call an election would have been last March. He’s finally recognised that the least worst time is now. It would take a miracle to save his government, but by biting the bullet he might just have done enough to protect his party from the very worst outcomes.


John Oxley is a corporate strategist and political commentator. His Substack is Joxley Writes.

Mr_John_Oxley

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Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 month ago

“…by biting the bullet he might just have done enough to protect his party from the very worst outcomes…”

Nope. Nope.
There is only one outcome possible, which is the very worst outcome that is possible. The Labour Party could be be revealed tomorrow as a satanic death cult which sacrifices virgins every Thursday midnight in Southwark, and it wouldn’t prevent the Tories from losing.

Annihilation comes.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Southwark? Nah, that cult is based in Basingstoke!

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago

Here’s a conundrum. What are the odds on this being the last Tory administration, relative to the odds of Starmer’s forthcoming “election by default” being the last ever Labour administration?

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Sadly rather small, the blob will see to that

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Absolutely zero.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

I mean, elections have been between Labour and the Tories for the last 100 years, and they will be for the next 100.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

I guess that’s what the Liberals assumed back then, or the Whigs before them.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

The Whigs effectively became the Liberals.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago

I think it’s much simpler than this, they’re simply laying a trap for Starmer.
They know they’ve lost the election, but my prediction is that Starmer will come in and scrap the Rwanda plan just as the annusl summer surge of boats starts up again coming across the Channel. The Tories will then hammer the point home that this is due to the scrapping of Rwanda, immediately putting Starmers government on the back foot

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
30 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Exactly. As the wholly inadequate Rwanda legislation inevitably starts to fall apart, the mess will be Starmer’s to inherit. If he tries to improve it – he loses. If he scraps it – he still loses.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 month ago

The Bank of England most likely deserves the credit,

for what? They’ve been as useless as the government

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 month ago

Sunak is tired of only earning £164,000 pa. An early election brings forward the day when he can again earn real money.