Rishi Sunak’s early general election won’t save the Conservatives, their time is well and truly up

By Louis Shankar

Published May 29, 2024 at 06:14 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

On Wednesday 22 May 2024, Rishi Sunak stood outside 10 Downing Street in the pouring rain and announced that it was time for a general election, or as it’s now being fondly referred to, a genny lec, on 4 July. Aside from wondering why on earth the Prime Minister never considered bringing an umbrella outside with him, the biggest question on everyone’s mind has been: why now?

Well, the most obvious answer is that Sunak’s decision coincided with the Conservative party’s attempts to capitalise on the positive news about inflation coming down. In April, per the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), inflation fell to 2.3 per cent, the lowest it’s been in years. I should probably note that following Liz Truss’ disastrous mini-budget in October 2022, it reached 11.1 per cent, the highest rate since October 1981.

However, everything is still exorbitantly expensive and without negative inflation (which brings its whole own host of issues), things aren’t going to suddenly get cheaper again. If this was the plan, though, it was executed very poorly. Mainly because the inflation news wasn’t even given a full news cycle before the election was announced. Oops. 

The likely, albeit dreadful and depressing, reason for this early election call is that the current government knows that things aren’t going to get better between now and December when they would be forced to call an election. This way, the Tories supposedly believe that they have the upper hand. They won’t be able to pass any tax cuts at the Autumn Statement—pretty much the only way to win votes at this stage—due to a slow economy and imminent payouts for both the Post Office and infected blood scandals (just two of the many, many scandals to haunt this government).

The Conservative party is flailing in the polls and it’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Labour certainly has a comfortable lead and at this point, they’re the primary players. What matters is how they win and by how much. While Keir Starmer isn’t exactly popular—especially compared to Tony Blair in 1997 or even Boris Johnson in 2019—the Tory party and the entire Cabinet are so wildly unpopular that such optics make less difference.

Many high-profile Tories have already stepped down: the sudden election means many will be jobless after Parliament finishes on Friday, suddenly missing out on several months’ pay and without a job lined up. Just for clarity, I have zero sympathy for any of them. Indeed, much of the cabinet risk losing their usually very safe seats and some would rather jump before being pushed.

Speaking of Tory problems, Sunak’s flagship policy, the inhumane and largely unpopular Rwanda deportation scheme, is unlikely to take off (literally) anytime soon, due to a host of legal challenges. So, instead of running an election off the back of an unsuccessful launch, they’re demanding votes to ensure the scheme gets going and isn’t purely an enormous waste of money.

This policy in particular appeals to the far-right of the Tory party—a voting bloc that the party is at risk of losing for the first time in a generation. They spent a decade whipping up divisive and bigoted sentiments and now finally it looks like this will come back to bite them on the ass.

In 2015, the promise of the Brexit referendum appeased such voters and in 2019, the then-Brexit party made an unofficial deal with Johnson not to stand in many Tory seats. Now, though, the populist and ever-extremist Reform UK party are pledging to stand in every constituency, which seems unlikely given how many candidates they are having to drop due to racist or otherwise bigoted social media posts emerging. However, because their support is spread thin across the country, it’s possible that they won’t win any seats and may even lose their first and only MP, Tory defector Lee Anderson.  

Many on the (far) left are encouraging people to vote for the smaller parties, especially the Green party. However, the UK’s voting system, First Past the Post (FPTP), means it’s unlikely they’ll get more than a couple of seats. Even still, it sends an important message to Starmer and might deprive him of a supermajority.

The Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) are expected to claim a lot of Tory safe seats—taking voters who are tired of the Tories but can’t quite stomach voting Labour—and become a major player in parliament for the first time since the coalition government.

Labour also looks set to make serious gains in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party (SNP) is imploding after a disastrous few years: John Swinney is their third leader in 14 months and is now facing a general election after just a couple of weeks in office.

Calling an election now means the Tories can at least have a summer break free from campaigning: many are joking that Sunak already has a job lined up in Silicon Valley that starts in July. After all, Sunak risks losing his own seat, with his popularity at an all-time low. And that’s seriously no understatement.

Make sure you’re registered to vote, keep your ID close and ready to hand, and remember: don’t take any result for granted, but vote with your conscience.

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