24 hours is a long time in Westminster

On the morning of promising economic figures being announced, Westminster and Fleet Street firmly expected the Tory Party and Rishi Sunak to be on the front foot about economic recovery and highlighting that the Prime Minister’s plan was working.

However, when news stories began to circulate that Downing Street was refusing to rule out the prospect of an election being announced as early as the same day, many believed it may be political posturing or a possible reshuffle.

These rumours continued to multiply as the Prime Minister stood at the dispatch box during PMQs and once again reiterated his intention to hold a General Election by the second half of the year but did not take the opportunity to dispel the notion an announcement may come as soon as the same day.

By the middle of the afternoon, the prospect of a July General Election announcement looked all but certain. The Foreign Secretary was ordered back from Albania to attend Cabinet coupled with the Defence Secretary delaying an international visit highlighted that a major announcement was in the works.

Following an afternoon Cabinet meeting, all major news outlets were reporting that Sunak would announce on the steps of Downing Street that the country would go to the polls on 4th July.

In a rain-soaked address to the nation, Sunak did indeed confirm that he was announcing a General Election would be held on the 4th July. His speech was drowned out by the sound of New Labour’s 1997 election anthem “Things Can Only Get Better” blaring from speakers on Whitehall, which will have been viewed as a major communications disaster inside No.10.

The announcement of the General Election had clearly been an incredibly closely guarded secret. No significant murmurings had occurred prior to the day and most were continuing to plan for the country to go to the polls towards the end of the year.

In his speech to the nation, Sunak announced the news and was quick to highlight that his strategy to restore economic stability was on the correct path, with inflation falling and economic growth rising.

His choice to call the election on 4th July is likely emblematic of the Prime Minister’s wish to highlight the perceived economic recovery the UK is currently experiencing. An election campaign focused on the economic stability of the Conservative Party and the economic chaos of the Labour Party is a well-run race, and perhaps, Sunak sees this as his best route to victory.

However, that route to victory is up a very steep and narrow path, the Conservative Party is upwards of 20 points behind in polling figures and the country appears to be calling out for change amid a cost of living and global geopolitical crisis.

Alongside this, Sunak’s political gamble has appeared to alienate a significant proportion of his Parliamentary Party. Worried of potentially losing their seats and not being prepared for an election campaign, reports suggest that backbenchers have begun to hand in letters to the 1922 committee calling for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister before Parliament is dissolved.

Critics will be quick to point out that a July Election, which has not been held since 1945 when the Labour Party romped to a landslide victory, is a sign that the economy will deteriorate and NHS waiting lists may continue to grow as the country heads into winter. With this in mind, calling an election now may be viewed as avoiding the worst of what is to come.

While the timing might be surprising the country and political parties are now on an election footing. Parliament will be dissolved on 30th May when the election period will start and manifestos will be published, which the public and businesses alike will be keeping a close eye on.

The election period will see all the major parties focus heavily on why their policy platform will be the most effective in navigating the country through times of economic and social turbulence. It can be expected, based on both the Tories and Labour’s early policy pledges, that the economy, NHS and illegal immigration will feature heavily in the campaign.

Despite the relatively unexpected announcement of a July General Election, the parties are already gaining momentum in their respective campaigning efforts.

Following his speech, Sunak headed to East London to host a campaign launch with Parliamentary colleagues before heading up to Scotland today to begin a regional campaign.

The Leader of the Opposition was quick to hit back with a press conference promising both change and an end to ‘chaotic’ Tory rule before heading down to his campaign launch in Kent.

The coming weeks will be potentially generation-defining for the political landscape in the UK. Not since Gordon Brown has a Labour Prime Minister been in Downing Street and the polls suggest that Sir Keir Starmer, at this point at least, is likely to be in power come the 5th July.

Whichever lens this is viewed through or whatever angle it is viewed from, this is quite clearly the biggest political gamble of Sunak’s life. With a mountain to climb and the Conservative Party on the brink of losing its long-held grip on political power in this country, this could be the most fiercely contest General Election in decades.

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