Cease the May election speculation

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A government minister declared this morning what many have believed to be true for some time: the Conservative Party is not ready for a May general election.

Trade minister Greg Hands, who served as his party’s chair not long ago (so probably privy to campaign planning), was asked on Times Radio whether the Conservatives are “ready” for a May election. He responded with a resolute “No”. Read Politics.co.uks full write-up here.

Of course, Greg Hands is *checks notes* not the prime minister and therefore his commentary on election timing is far from unimpeachable. But still: take that politicos in SW1 and beyond who have recently talked up the prospect of a 2 May poll to be held alongside the local elections.

I do have some skin in the game here, that said. My piece in January rating the likelihood of a variety of election dates largely dismissed the prospect of a poll in May. “There is also no getting around the fact that an election in May would, if the polls fail to rally, be manifestly self-destructive”, I argued.

In fact, I would posit that the above analysis is even more pertinent in light of Ipsos’ findings yesterday, which recorded the Conservative Party’s worst opinion poll performance since 1978. The poll showed support for the Conservatives nosediving by seven points in January to a clean 20 per cent.

Rishi Sunak, as I have written before, is a reactive prime minister, who interprets events as they develop and conditions his politics accordingly. This is why he has so frequently switched up his political strategy, vacillating between “continuity” to “change” approaches. In this way, I suspect every bit of bad political news — be that another resignation, a dire opinion poll or a botched policy announcement — pushes back his preferred election date. Indeed, if the budget tomorrow proves to be an electoral flop, Sunak maintains the right to hold another fiscal event later this year. An autumn statement could prove the ideal springboard to a late November/early December election.

Sunak is also a deeply determined prime minister — and, frankly, we shouldn’t expect his faith in himself to diminish any time soon. A May election would be tantamount to Sunak throwing in the towel.

But my featured article today is on those many (59!) Conservative MPs who have already declared their intention to stand down at the next election — whenever that may be. I argue that it is only a matter of time before that figure surpasses, and eventually dwarfs, the 1997 Tory out-take.

Exodus of Conservative MPs is a sign of the times for Rishi Sunak

Lunchtime briefing

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Minister appears to rule out May election as Conservative Party not ‘ready’

Greg Hands was was asked whether his party is ready for an election on 2 May.

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Conservative MP warns against right-wing shift as core vote could ‘die off’

Paul Scully said that the Conservative Party risks undergoing an “ideological shove to the right”.

Lunchtime soundbite

‘By the way, this election, I think, is coming in May. I think it’s definitely coming in May. The Conservatives are planning for May.’

—  A bold assertion this morning from a Labour frontbencher, shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth, that the general election is coming in May.

Now try this:

Genocide anniversary to delay Rwanda flights as Sunak suffers Lords defeat
The Times reports. (Paywall)

Lords rebels obstructing Rwanda Bill are on side of the smugglers, warns Cleverly
The home secretary speaks to the Telegraph. (Paywall)

Claire Coutinho: The UK’s chancellor-in-the-wings?
Politico’s Abby Wallace argues that energy secretary Claire Coutinho may yet land a big promotion from her ally the prime minister.

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