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Why Rishi Sunak Has Gambled On A Summer General Election

Rishi Sunak leaving Downing Street on Wednesday (Alamy)

3 min read

Downing Street has quietly been weighing up whether to take a gamble on a summer general election, or hold out until the autumn as had been widely expected, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has now confirmed he will go in July.

With an impromptu press conference on Wednesday, Sunak confirmed that voters will go to the polls on Thursday 4 July.

But the announcement that an election will take place in six weeks' time has nonetheless come as a surprise to many Westminster-watchers because the political landscape still looks incredibly ominous for the Conservative party. Those who had pushed for a November vote hoped voters might have seen economic improvements that could put the government back in people's favour. 

The Labour Party has led the Tories by large, double-digit leads in the opinion polls for well over a year, suggesting that Keir Starmer is in a very strong position to enter Downing Street as the next prime minister. Local and mayoral elections held earlier this month also crystallised the size of the hole that the Conservatives find themselves in in election year.

The Prime Minister himself is among the figures who has long pushed the idea of an earlier vote, PoliticsHome understands. One reason relates to the economy.

It was announced on Wednesday that inflation had fallen to just above two per cent, down from just over 11 per cent when Sunak entered Downing Street in October 22. Tory strategists hope that this headline figure will help the Prime Minister persuade voters that his efforts to repair the economy have worked, and that they should stick with him so he can finish the job.

By holding the election in July, rather than later in the year, it also means it will take place before thousands of people nationwide move onto bigger mortgage repayments triggered by Liz Truss' calamitous, short lived time in Downing Street.

Another reason is illegal migration. Ministers hope that plans to deport people to Rwanda will receive a boost between now and 4 July if flights deporting asylum seekers are allowed to take off.

An early July vote also means voters will go to the polls before what Government insiders fear will be a summer dominated by high numbers of attempted small boat crossings. This is the view of one former Conservative secretary of state, who said Sunak was "giving up because you think summer crossing will get worse".

In Westminster, the general expectation has been that Sunak would hold off until the Autumn as this would create more time for him to improve his party's standing in the polls.

However, there is a prevailing belief in Downing Street that waiting until then, or "going long" as it is often described, doesn't necessarily mean the situation improves for the Tory party, and getting it over with sooner, rather than later, may limit the damage.

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