Is Rishi Sunak readying for a general election in May?

Rishi Sunak Credit: PA

Sir Keir Starmer, the man expected to be our next prime minister, has said he is ready for a general election "straight away" - so is Rishi Sunak really preparing for one in the first half of next year?

Speculation is rife that Mr Sunak could be preparing to go to the polls in May 2024 after announcing a raft of tax cuts this week.

And while the chancellor has denied his autumn statement was a pre-election giveaway, that has done nothing to stop the rumours.

Under UK law, a general election can be called no longer than five years after the previous election, meaning the prime minister has little over a year to announce one.

When is the next election expected?

Most Westminster insiders had been predicting November 2024 as the most likely time for a general election but a number of things have happened lately, leading many to reevaluate their estimates.

Pressure for a general election from within Mr Sunak's own party ramped up after the Supreme Court ruled his plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda unlawful.

Amid speculation that the House of Lords could stand in the way of his revised attempt to force through the plan, former minister Simon Clarke said the PM should hold an election as a de-facto referendum on the issue.

Mr Sunak did not rule it out when asked. He said: "Well, I think people just want the problem fixed. That’s what I’m here to do."

Despite Mr Clarkes' intervention, it did little to shift the dial on people's predictions. What did was the tax-cutting autumn statement.

Why do some people think May?

Ministers had been warning for weeks that UK finances were too tight to slash taxes but an unexpected drop in the level of inflation meant Mr Sunak could declare that he'd achieved his goal of halving it this year.

He delivered a speech lauding his success, telling the public that now was the time to finally giving workers more take-home pay.

Days later Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the heavily disputed claim that he had made the UK's biggest ever tax cut to National Insurance.

It led people to believe the government was buttering people up with tax cuts before asking for votes.

Ten of the last 11 general elections have taken place in spring or early summer and they're often held jointly with local elections to avoid extra electoral costs.

In 2024, local and mayoral elections will take place in many parts of the country on May 2, making this a likely date for a spring general election, according to the Institute for Government.

Robert Peston says that's 'nuts'

ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston suggested a May election was unlikely because cuts to national insurance won't have had much of an impact by then - and Mr Hunt said it is “silly” to think about his tax cuts as a pre-election giveaway.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Peston said: "Some Tory MPs think the 2p national insurance cut, pushed through with emergency legislation, means the election is in May. That's nuts.

"Even with this tax cut, the economy is set to grow just 0.7% next year, and the momentum will pick up only slowly."

Despite this, Mr Clarke told the Peston programme on ITV that he believes May is likely.

“I think we will go in May," he said, pointing out that most elections are held in spring or summer and it is "much easier to campaign at that time of year".

"My instinct is that, all things being equal, and of course you have to allow for events, that we should go in spring," he said.

The chancellor said he did not know whether a spring general election was being considered by the PM.

Asked by Sky News whether the national insurance cut being brought forward to January was paving the way for a May election, Mr Hunt said: “That is a decision for the prime minister. We’ve had no discussions on the topic.”

What is the latest possible date for a general election?

Sir Keir Starmer has said that Labour is “ready for an election straight away”.

“The reason for that is because I don’t think that the British public, and the voters, can afford to wait any longer,” the Labour leader said.

But Mr Sunak can afford to wait longer, much longer in fact. That's because the very final date for an election could be in 2025.

December 17, 2024 would be exactly five years after Parliament returned following the 2019 general election.

If Mr Sunak had not called an election by then, Parliament would automatically be dissolved and the election would follow 25 working days later.

This means the final date for the next general election is January 28 2025.

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