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Rishi Sunak should delay the election for as long as possible

Not a dead man walking (yet). Credit: Getty

October 26, 2023 - 1:00pm

The latest Rishi Sunak video is typically awful, but it does drop a massive hint as to the date of the next general election. After bigging up the Prime Minister’s first year in office, the presentation concludes with a question (“So what can a country achieve in 52 weeks?”) followed by an answer of sorts (“Watch this space”).

The maths would thus appear to rule out a spring 2024 general election, which points to an autumn date instead.

As the Institute for Government explains here, Sunak could put off doomsday until 28 January, 2025. However, that would mean announcing the election in December 2024, then holding the first part of the campaign over the Christmas period. The rest, including polling day, would then take place in the grimmest days of the coldest month, just when the country is feeling fat, frozen and broke.

I realise we’re talking about the geniuses who announced the cancellation of the HS2 branch to Manchester at their annual conference in, er, Manchester, but surely even they wouldn’t be so foolish as to hold a general election at the most depressing time of the year. After all, there’s a reason why this hasn’t happened since 1910. 

So if winter is too horrible, spring is too soon and summer has too many people on holiday, then it has to be autumn.

This won’t please Bloomberg columnist Adrian Wooldridge, who wants to get the election over and done with. He warns the Tories against the Micawber approach of waiting for something to turn up. “The longer [the Conservative Party] delays and keeps its zombie government in suspended animation,” he says, “the angrier the public becomes.”

Given the recent by-election drubbings, that looks like sound advice. Or it would do, if it weren’t for three considerations.

Firstly, the Government still has a working majority, so it doesn’t have to stay in zombie mode.  Secondly, is it possible for the Tories to sink any lower in the polls? It’s true that Liz Truss found a way, but I doubt Sunak has the imagination to mess up that badly. Finally, something could indeed turn up. Another year is 52 weeks in which the Labour Party could return to form and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s unlikely — but if anyone can, it’s Labour.

More than any previous Labour leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer is seen as a prime-minister-in-waiting. His every word and action is scrutinised as if he were already in office. Thus it makes sense for the Tories to give him as much time as possible in which to make a serious error.

For instance, Starmer finds himself in an awkward position on Israel-Gaza. On the one hand, he needs to act the part of a soon-to-be-leader of a major Western power; on the other, he has the anti-Israel Left in his own party to keep under control. 

Never forget, this is the man who tried to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister, John McDonnell chancellor of the exchequer and Diane Abbott home secretary. People with two left feet tend to trip over themselves. So do those with two faces.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 months ago

Luckily for Keir he’s now promoted intellectual heavyweight David Lammy so it’s all just going up and up.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

He is titan compared to some. Last night, Hilary Benn attended Rachel Reeves’s book launch. In his foreword to a 2021 report for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Benn wrote: “When we were elected in 1997, the amount of aid we gave as a proportion of our national income had halved over the preceding 18 years and was just 0.26%. By the time we left office, we were on our way to achieving the 0.7% target. This was down to the political leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who brought the lives of the world’s poorest people into the heart of Whitehall.”

Without acknowledgment, Reeves writes: “When Labour was elected in 1997, the amount of aid the UK gave as a proportion of our national income had halved over the preceding 18 years and stood at just 0.26%. By the end of Labour’s time in office, in 2010, we were on our way to achieving the 0.7% target. This was down to the political leadership of Blair and Gordon Brown – and their first secretary of state for international development from 1997 to 2002, Clare Short, who brought the lives of the world’s poorest people into the heart of government.”

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Assuming that Starmer wins, which he likely will, it will be very interesting to see how many staffers and secondees come into Whitehall from the Blair Institute.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

Interesting? That’s one way of putting it.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

In some recent photographs, he’s taken to wearing glasses to make him look more intelligent.
The glasses look brighter than he does. It’s a spectacle in itself.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Do they have lenses in them?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago

The final sentence – ouch!
I don’t think it’s giving Starmer time to make a mistake so much as giving his party time to implode of its own accord over internal differences.
Events, dear boy, events.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It’s a fair point. Of course the divisions within the Conservatives have just been more visible over the past few years because they have been in power where Labour’s differences have been largely out of the spotlight.
Israel/Gaza has been an early sight for Starmer of just how difficult these differences, particularly on foreign affairs can become. It is likely Starmer is going to have to be the one that has to explain how East Ukraine and Zelenskiiy are hopelessly lost causes – given Labour backed conflict in Ukraine he won’t be able to blame the Conservatives (though he’ll be very tempted to try).
What I will say in defence of Starmer is this: he has shown some signs that he will be willing to say things that won’t go down well. He is the first mainstream politician for a very long time to openly say that houseprices need to fall relative to incomes. He also clearly said that immigration is too high. He, of course, had less to say on what should be done about those things but at least he said it looking straight at the camera. But as optimism goes for Starmer that really is the best I can muster.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

Correct. But Gaza is the real test. Starmers Minders have instructed him to stay hazy on all policy details and just talk as a PM would. Hence him defending a nation’s right to defend itself. So far so Union Jack. Only this has unleashed the Muslim/Progressive Hounds of Hell. If he falters or bends to them and their risible talk of ceasefire, he will trip big time. Very high risk. The test.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
8 months ago

As noted several times yesterday, the Palestine wing of Labour really has nowhere else to go.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago

Oi, Tories, please go gentle into that good night,
Incompetence has no business burning and raving at close of day;
Just accept the dying of the light (you numpties).

The useless men should know, at their end dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning, or indeed anything of anyworth, they
Need to go gentle into that good night,
Rant and rave all you want, it’s over guys.

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
8 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

You’re right, one socialist government is going to be replaced by another.

N Satori
N Satori
8 months ago

So we get to vote on which party will make the least bad effort to control our borders, challenge NetZero, enforce the rule of law, solve the housing crisis, subdue the Transgender activists…
Britain’s continuing faith in the democratic process can no longer be excused as naive. The true levers of power are outside of our glorious “mother of all parliaments”. The colonisation of our institutions by woke activists has become all too conspicuous.
Depressing.

Last edited 8 months ago by N Satori
Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

Rishi Sunak should delay the election for as long as possible
It makes sense to give Keir Starmer more time to make a serious error
And what of the country, during that time?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
8 months ago

Don’t think it would improve if Starmer & Labour got in in the spring.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago

“Never forget, this is the man who tried to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister, John McDonnell chancellor of the exchequer and Diane Abbott home secretary.” And that would have been so awful compared to what that has happened in the course of this Parliament?

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Labour in charge (possibly led by Corbyn) couldn’t have been worse – during the pandemic- really?

We’d still be locked down

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Corbyn was quite lockdown-sceptical. Check his voting record.

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Corbyn is always everything good – after the fact.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
8 months ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Yes. It would have been much more awful. Awful squared or even cubed.