Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out May general election

PM initially declined to repeat that his ‘working assumption’ was a poll in the second half of this year - although he later said ‘nothing has changed’

Kate Devlin
Thursday 07 March 2024 18:18 GMT
Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out May 2024 general election

Rishi Sunak has fuelled speculation he could hold an early election after he initially refused to rule out a poll in May.

The prime minister has previously said his “working assumption” is that he will go to the country in the second half of this year.

But he did not repeat that formulation when asked about a May vote on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2.

Instead, the Conservative leader said: “I’m not going to say anything about that. What matters is the choice at that election”.

A few hours later he clarified his comments and told the BBC that “nothing has changed” since earlier this year. He said: “I was very clear about this at the beginning of the year about my working assumption for the election being in the second half of the year – nothing has changed since then.”

Voters will already go to the polls at the start of May, in local elections up and down the country.

Senior Tories fear the results could be a bloodbath that would further diminish their chances of a good result in a general election.

A number, including former cabinet ministers, are urging the PM to call an early election in a bid to return as many Tory MPs as possible and give the party a fighting chance in 2029.

The PM has faced claims he is clearing his diary to keep his options open for a possible early poll.

Rishi Sunak (James Manning/PA Wire)

Earlier this week the Independent revealed an international summit long planned for April had been cancelled so abruptly the event’s official envoy was on his way to visit Africa to promote it when he was told.

Mr Sunak is hoping for a bounce in the polls from Wednesday’s Budget, when the chancellor announced tax cuts worth billions of pounds.

Some within his party also feel Labour is under instense pressure over its stance on the war in Gaza. Labour leader Keir Starmer is facing calls from his party members to back a ceasefire in the conflict.

But a shock poll earlier this week showed that just one in five voters back the Tories.On Tuesday minister Greg Hands said the contest would be “later this year”.

Asked if there was “a sniff” of a chance of a May general election, Mr Hands said: “No.”

At the same time, Labour’s shadow paymaster general made a bet with Sky News presenter Kay Burley that the contest would be in May.

Jonathan Ashworth said: “This election is coming in May. I think it is definitely coming in May… the Conservatives are planning for that.”

Former Tory leader Lord Hague has urged the PM to “keep his options open”, but added that it was “much more likely” an election would come late this year.

Mr Sunak’s deadline to dissolve parliament in time for an early May election is 26 March.

The Ipsos poll, published on Monday, suggests Mr Sunak could hold on to as few as 25 seats – 351 fewer than Boris Johnson won in 2019 – in what would be a historic defeat.

It also predicts Sir Keir could secure as many as 537 seats – 340 more than Jeremy Corbyn managed at the last election and a landslide victory which would eclipse Tony Blair’s 1997 win.

The survey showed support for the Tories at just 20 per cent, the lowest since 1978 when Ipsos started tracking the poll.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said: “Rishi Sunak should stop squatting in Downing Street and give the country what it desperately needs – a chance for change. The prime minister needs to finally come clean with the public and name the date of an election now.

“Keir Starmer’s changed Labour Party is ready offer long-term change to deliver more jobs, more investment, and to cut people’s bills.”

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