Rishi Sunak to call General Election for July 4, say sources

Credit: PA

Sources have told me that some folk in government have been told an election announcement is coming - and Rishi Sunak is expected to call it for July 4.

In April, a source told me that there was a divide opening inside Downing Street on when to hold an election. They said that the party's campaign chief, Isaac Levido, had long argued to be patient - and hold the election in November.

Plans were put in place to aim for November 14 - with contracts signed, heading for that date. But of course it has always been in Rishi Sunak's power to stick to that plan, or go to the polls earlier.

The source said that a very influential figure in Downing Street - the PM's chief of staff - Liam Booth Smith had started to argue for an earlier election on July 4. His fear was that the threat from Reform UK - to the right of the Tories - might only get worse.

At the time, Downing street sources insisted that the plan was still for Autumn - and each time that early election speculation has swirled (and it seems to be a fairly regular event) - they have knocked it down.

This morning when I messaged senior folk close to the Conservative election machine, they still seemed to imply that nothing was imminent, but soon their responses stopped. It was that radio silence from some of the key figures in the know that turbo-charged today's election speculation.

It has led most of us to assume that either Sunak will call an early election on July 4, announce a date for a September or November election, or perhaps carry out a reshuffle.

The decision to call foreign secretary, Lord Cameron, back from Albania for a Cabinet meeting at 4pm today suggests a reshuffle is less likely (and a rumour that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was standing down was shot down by the Treasury).

So, what might have convinced the PM to go early? As well as the idea that the Reform threat could get worse and the polls already being in freefall, some wonder if today's inflation news could be as good as it gets for the PM in terms of brighter economic news.

There are worries that some prices could start to rise more quickly again, and that might squeeze the chances of additional interest rate cuts. Moreover, the money now being spent on compensation for victims of the infected blood scandal makes it harder to offer pre-election giveaways.

Some think the PM is not convinced that the Rwanda policy will work - and so wants to get ahead of it. Perhaps he will go into the election with a dramatic promise - for example, pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

If they do not now call an early election - then this is looking like a comms disaster on level with Gordon Brown's 2007 to and fro-ing that resulted in the narrative that he had bottled it.

The argument for going long - was always that more time would allow it to look like the plan is working - that NHS waiting lists are falling and the economy improving. Although it should be said -that it's notable the PM talks much less about his five priorities - with sources suggesting he regretted ever announcing them.

A third option of announcing a later date brings one advantage. The PM apparently thinks that when people are more focused on the choice of him or Keir Starmer that they may be more willing to lean back to the Tories.

The party thinks there is a lack of enthusiasm about the Labour leader. But the PM thinks that decision won't crystallise until there is a date. That could be an argument for announcing one - even if some months into the future.

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