Is a summer election becoming more likely?

Credit: PA

For some time, it's been clear that the Conservatives have wanted to hold off on calling an election until later this year - with a date pencilled (and no doubt contracts signed) for November 14.

Murmurs about the impact of the US election, and potential instability in the scenario of a Donald Trump win or loss, were largely shrugged off.

One source told me that the concerns were not about a specific date but the whole period, and insisted that it was up to the PM when the election was held.

A second insider argued that if anything, the election would be pushed back to December.

The argument was that Rishi Sunak needed time to try to persuade voters to give his party one more chance - that through the year he would start to make progress on key pledges (getting a flight to Rwanda and improvements to the economy) and then be better placed to sell a positive vision.

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But sources tell me that in recent weeks the mood has shifted in Downing Street in a number of ways.

They say that increasingly, those around the PM think that defeat is now inevitable and so their minds are focused on minimising the damage and doing whatever they can to protect Sunak's reputation and legacy.

They also claim that he himself is feeling miserable, as MP after MP announces plans to quit parliament and the loss of two more ministers this week.

One conversation is around what happens if Conservative MPs launch a confidence vote in the PM's future after the inevitably poor May election results.

Robert Peston has argued that the PM could just quit at that point and leave the party to it.

Those I talk to agree that is possible, but think it is more likely that he takes on the vote. However, they argue that if he wins or loses a confidence vote, it will be much harder for the party to hold off going to the votes.

They say Sunak himself is one of the ones arguing that carrying on like this until November may not be sustainable (although strategists still believe it gives the party the best chance of closing the polling gap, at least somewhat).

Much of the talk about a May election was driven more from the Labour side and knowingly.

They felt that pushing that momentum would help them argue that Sunak was bottling it when it didn’t happen.

At no point was it a serious consideration in Number 10 - but summer does now look increasingly possible

If the PM were to trigger an election in mid to late May, that would mean a summer election in June or July.

Sources say the PM's allies are thinking about whether it would be better for him not to lead the party into a terrible defeat (which could - at least in part - be blamed on the mini budget and Partygate scandals that preceded him) and to walk away.

But one source suggested there was a concern that if another leader like Penny Mordaunt took over and got a small improvement in position - closing the polling gap by 4 or 5 points - that might increase the chance of Sunak taking the blame for the Tories' terrible predicament.

A predicament that has led polling guru John Curtice to claim on Wednesday that Labour has a 99% chance of winning the next election, whether it is in the Spring or Autumn.

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