Election date for Great Britain: Sunak’s daring surprise tactic

As of: May 23, 2024 9:25 a.m

British Prime Minister Sunak surprised the country with his announcement that parliament would be re-elected on July 4th. Especially since his poll numbers are extremely bad. What is the calculation behind it?

The scene couldn’t have seemed more unfortunate: in the pouring rain, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stood without an umbrella at the hastily brought lectern in front of the famous black door at 10 Downing Street and, soaking wet, tried to speak against the blaring music that was coming from a demonstration nearby. He asked the king to dissolve parliament and elections would be held on July 4th.

Sunak looked like a wet poodle, and his Conservative Party could look like that after the elections. Many in the Conservative group were surprised at the election date. Almost 70 MPs had announced in recent weeks that they would not stand again in the general election for fear of losing their seats.

In the polls, the Conservative party is around 20 points behind the Labor opposition. Political observers comment that it is courageous to go into the election campaign at this time.

Sunak’s hope: the Inflation development

What may have given Sunak hope is the falling inflation. When he took office, it was more than 11 percent; in April it was only 2.3 percent.

Nevertheless, the decision is a risk for Sunak, says Faisal Islam, an economic expert at the BBC. The Prime Minister is counting on people feeling in their wallets that things are becoming cheaper and hopes that they will take this to the benefit of the incumbent government.

Sunak is clutching at straws, explains journalist Jenny Kleeman, because his situation could actually only get worse over the summer:

In the summer, more boat refugees could come across the English Channel again, which would be a disaster for Sunak’s policies. At the party conference in October, the party could want to get at him again, there could be more defections to the Labour Party and Nigel Farage, the right-wing populist, could play an important role in the Reform UK party and cost the Conservatives votes. But if Sunak has calculated that now is his best chance, the chances for the Conservatives are actually pretty bleak.”

Labour’s harsh criticism

The Labour opposition had been calling for new elections for months, and party leader Keir Starmer declared that after 14 years of conservative government, it was time for a change. Nothing seemed to be working in the country anymore, said Starmer: “The public service is collapsing, ambulances are not coming, families are being burdened by higher mortgage rates, anti-social behaviour on our high streets. The list goes on and on.”

Although the new leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), John Swinney, also welcomed the election announcement, he also expressed his anger that Sunak had scheduled the election during the Scottish school holidays. He called it “one more disrespect” from conservatives. The Conservatives have traditionally had a difficult time in Scotland.

The news of the July elections sparked a lot of approval on the country’s streets: “Thank God. Finally. The faster, the better,” said one woman. But some people have also lost trust in politics. She hasn’t voted for a long time, explained another.

The Prime Minister sets the election date

In Great Britain, the government is allowed to determine the election date itself in a legislative period and, for example, to schedule elections when it calculates that the majority situation is as favorable as possible. The last possible election date in Great Britain would have been the end of January 2025.

Rishi Sunak is already the third Conservative head of government since the last election in 2019, after Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. The Conservatives have been blamed for several scandals in recent years, including the “Partygate” affair surrounding banned lockdown celebrations in Downing Street during the pandemic.

Several Conservative MPs have been expelled from the group for misconduct, including sexual assault. Recently, two Tory politicians defected to Labor.

Most recently, the Conservatives lost hundreds of seats and an important mayoral post in local elections in England, as well as a constituency in north-west England in a parliamentary by-election. The right-wing populist party Reform UK, the former Brexit party, is also putting the Tories under increasing pressure.

Gabi Biesinger, tagesschau, May 22nd, 2024 8:40 p.m

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