Jeremy Hunt suggests general election will be held in October as speculation mounts over poll date

Chancellor says he hopes to do another fiscal event in the current parliament

Matt Mathers
Tuesday 19 March 2024 19:35 GMT
Related video: Key takeaways from the spring Budget

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has suggested that the general election could be held in October, as speculation continues over the question of when the UK might go to the polls for a national vote.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak last week ruled out a snap election on 2 May, when voters are due to head to the polls in local elections across England.

He has previously said that his “working assumption” was that he would hold a vote in the second half of the year, but has not yet confirmed a date.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Hunt suggested that the vote could take place in October, as he was questioned on the government’s spending plans.

“And of course, if the general election is in October, that will mean it’s very, very tight, and that’s why we’re thinking in advance about the most important element of that spending review, which is the productivity element – how do we have more productive public services,” Mr Hunt told members of the economic affairs committee.

The chancellor addresses MPs on the Treasury committee earlier this month (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA Wire)

Earlier in the session, Mr Hunt, who faces a battle to hold onto his South West Surrey seat, also said that he hopes to hold “another fiscal event this parliament”.

Speculation about a 2 May election had reached fever pitch until Mr Sunak eventually ruled out holding one on that date.

Downing Street sources later told The Independent that the election had been pencilled in for the second Thursday in October.

Labour accused the prime minister of being too scared to go to the country as the Conservative Party trails the opposition by a double-digit margin in a number of opinion polls.

Talk then almost immediately turned to whether Mr Sunak could go to the polls in June, as former prime minister Theresa May did back in 2017 after claiming that the opposition parties were trying to jeopardise the government’s preparations for Brexit.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has called on Mr Sunak to hold an election as soon as possible.

Earlier this week, allies of Mr Sunak said it was still the PM’s intention to call an election in the second half of the year, amid reports of a plot by Tory rebels to oust him from office over the party’s dire standing in the polls.

Jittery MPs from across the party were said to have met and held talks about replacing Mr Sunak as prime minister with Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, in a “coronation” – a move that would not involve a leadership contest.

Penny Mordaunt carries the Sword of State at the coronation of King Charles III last year (PA Wire)

If followed through, the desperate bid would see the Conservatives impose their third consecutive prime minister on the country without calling an election.

But an ally of Ms Mordaunt denied there was a plot to install her as Tory leader, describing the plans as “nonsense”.

Sources told The Times that Mr Sunak would be prepared to call an earlier election as a means of avoiding another Conservative Party leadership contest.

Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary, warned the plotters that it was “too late” to oust Mr Sunak from office and that there was “no other alternative” to replace him.

“There comes a moment in time in the electoral cycle where you effectively put on your best suit, you stand up, and you march towards the sound of the guns, and you get on with it,” he told Times Radio.

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