When is the next UK general election?

Sunak rules out May election

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Regular readers of this newsletter will not have been surprised to learn yesterday that there will, after all, be no May election. The prime minister finally ruled out as much in an interview with ITV West Country on Thursday evening.

If you’re wondering why Rishi Sunak has now, after much delay, chosen to pronounce on election timing — here goes: the legal deadline for Sunak to call an election on 2 May (alongside the local and mayoral elections) is 26 March, less than two weeks away.

Amid another quiet day in Westminster yesterday (Gove’s extremism statement aside), thumb-twirling politicos decided to hone in on this fact. A quiet commons schedule hence had its usual effect of galvanising speculation as to when the PM will trigger a poll.

By yesterday evening then, SW1 was all a quiver when Sunak finally decided to put said speculation to bed. “There won’t be a general election on [2 May]”, Sunak told ITV — before launching into a spiel about the “choice” that faces Britain whenever there is.

It’s a victory for Conservative MP Sir Charles Walker, who yesterday urged the PM to ignore his “miserabilist” colleagues pining for an early poll. Clip here.

The reaction from Labour to the PM’s ITV interview has proceeded according to expectations. Finally, the party can exact its revenge for the Conservatives’ ruthless “bottler [Gordon] Brown” sledging in 2007; (then, like now, an allegedly holed-up prime minister decided against calling an early poll).

Duly, Labour activists dressed as chickens lined up outside Downing Street this morning, holding signs reading: “Rishi, name the date now”. I wonder which feathered mischief-maker is Jonathan Ashworth, that prime stoker of May election speculation?

Beyond Labour’s largely cynical, though effective, politicking in recent weeks has of course stood an unmovable truth: a May election would have been electoral suicide for Rishi Sunak — and his refusal to rule out the prospect until now was a strategic blunder.

In the end, Sunak’s statement to ITV yesterday should really have been his line in January, when he first told broadcasters of his “working assumption” that the UK would face an election “in the second half of this year”. This woolly line, which Sunak had stuck to ruthlessly no matter the reverberations around Westminster, granted Labour just enough wiggle room to engage in its own expectation-management operation. Hence the party’s poultry display this morning.

This is not to say that an autumn election will improve the Conservatives’ political prospects. In fact, the party’s inevitably dire showing at the local elections in May will only deepen discontent in Sunak’s ranks. With the opinion polls as they are, there exists no “good” date for the PM to call an election.

Meanwhile, armed forces minister James Heappey has announced his intention to quit at the next general election. Heappey’s departure sees the Conservative MP exodus grow to 62 — and it follows former cabinet minister Brandon Lewis’ declaration yesterday. That’s two fleeing Tories in not even 12 hours.

As I explained on X/Twitter this morning, it would seem that No 10 is urging MPs to time their departure announcements for the end of the week (Thursday evening/Friday morning). Last week it was Theresa May’s turn, of course.

I wonder, then, who will emerge as the lead Conservative evacuee next week? Tune in to Politics@Lunch to find out — Tory exodus chatter is always useful colour for these generally news-deprived Fridays.

Lunchtime briefing

Minister James Heappey to quit at next election as Conservative MP exodus climbs to 62

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Lunchtime soundbite

People rightly want a general election after 14 years of Conservative government. What’s he running scared of?

— Labour’s deputy national campaign coordinator Ellie Reeves speaks to Sky News. Rishi Sunak yesterday ruled out a general election on 2 May, following speculation he could choose to go to the polls early.

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