Rishi Sunak responds to by-election results
The dramatic set of results in the three by-elections on July 20 have almost certainly reduced Rishi Sunak’s options for when to call the next general election.
After the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliament Act by Boris Johnson’s government, the power was handed back to the Prime Minister to choose a date within the five-year term.
There had been speculation the election could be Spring 2024, but this seems unlikely as the Conservatives are 19 points behind Labor in the latest polls.
Added to that the loss of two seats in the by-elections – Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome – with majorities of around 20,000 will make Conservative MPs nervous they are facing a wipeout.
This leaves two options – an autumn election in 2025 in October or November or going at the final moment in January 2025.
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Rishi Sunak joins Steve Tuckwell in Uxbridge to celebrate a by-election victory
What is the most likely date for the next general election?
Working out the specific date for the next general election is not as hard as it may appear.
Generally, elections are held at a time of year when there is still some light and they rarely, if ever, happen during holiday periods.
Also in the UK elections always happen on a Thursday (even though there is no law saying it must be a Thursday just a tradition based on market days) which narrows down the options considerably.
If the election were to be in the spring next year then it is likely to be after Easter Sunday on March 31.
Added to that the election must be held 25 days after the dissolution of Parliament.
This means with a spring election, the earliest date is likely to be May 2 when there are also local government elections including Mayors of London, Manchester, Liverpool region, Teesside and Birmingham.
On the basis that parties do not like elections split over different weeks in the same month, it also makes May 2 the most likely spring date but May 9, 16, 23 or 30 are not impossible.
Starmer and Rayner celebrate with Labour’s new MP in Selby
If the election is held in the Autumn it is complicated by the party conference season and summer recess.
September 26 would be the earliest date Burt is likely going to clash with the Labor conference and would be just before the Tory one in Birmingham.
This makes mid to late October more likely the 10, 17, 24 or 31, or early November the 7 or 14.
After November 14 the hours of light during the day are generally too short for anything other than an emergency election.
However, there is one final option which is to hold on to the final day which would be January 28 2025.
This is based on the fact the last election was December 17 2019 plus the required run in for a vote.
Mr Sunak may choose this date if he thinks he will lose badly earlier on the basis that a winter election may as well be held at the last minute.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey campaigning in Mid Bedfordshire
How do the polls look?
Currently, things are looking very bad for the Conservatives.
At the time of writing Labour’s lead was 19 points (according to Techne UK) giving them a massive majority of well over 200 seats.
The Tories would be reduced to a mere 111 and would struggle to even win back the seats they lost in the by-elections.
This sort of result is what is often termed a wipeout.
But the theory runs that as an election gets closer then the polls start to tighten when people look at what the opposition parties actually offer.
Over the next few months far more scrutiny will be given to Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader.
Labor is heading for a record majority
Which are the key battlegrounds?
In a wide open contest there are a number of key battlegrounds which can be summed up as there are not many safe seats for the Conservatives.
In fact, the respected US pollster Frank Luntz recently told Conservative MPs that if their majorities were below 15,000 they “are already gone”.
But different regions have different battles.
Lib Dems versus Conservatives – will take place in the North West of England in seats like Altrincham and Sale West currently held by Sir Graham Brady who is stepping down.
The Tories are also vulnerable in the South West and South Central of England including Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and spreading into Hampshire and even Surrey.
This means people like Michael Gove could be at risk.
Richard Tice supports proportional representation.
Labor versus the Conservatives – Labor are desperate to win back their old Red Wall safe seats in the West and East Midlands, and North West and North East of England.
Among the dozens of interesting contests will be Lee Anderson in Ashfield, and the Bishop Auckland seat which is currently held by Dehenna Davison.
All of them will be vulnerable as will the Tories remaining seats in London which could, despite the surprise by-election result in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, end up a Tory free zone.
Meanwhile, Labor will also be eyeing former seats in Kent and even a few in East Anglia like Tom Hunt’s Ipswich seat.
SNP leader Humza Yousaf could have a difficult general election
What about Scotland?
The scandals surrounding the police inquiries into the financial affairs of the SNP, their former leader Nicola Sturgeon and her husband, the party’s former chief executive Peter Murrell have made life very difficult for the SNP.
Added to that Humza Yousaf has been depicted as a lightweight compared to his two predecessors Ms Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.
It seems likely that Labor will make significant gains particularly in the central belt of Scotland and west of Scotland.
Added to that the Tories are quietly confident of holding on to seats in the Borders and the North East of Scotland where they too may make gains.
The SNP is still favored to be the largest party but the contest is more wide open than it has been since the 2015 election.
Green MP Caroline Lucas is stepping down
What about fringe parties?
The Greens go into every election hoping to make gains in seats like Norwich South and some of the university towns.
In reality they will struggle to hold on to Brighton Pavilion now that Caroline Lucas is retiring.
As with all smaller parties the first past the constituency based post as opposed to proportional representation system makes it harder for them.
Among the other parties Reclaim MP Andrew Bridgen is confident of holding on to his North West Leicestershire seat even after being expelled by the Conservative Party over his critical views on the Covids vaccine.
But Laurence Fox’s Reclaim will only stand in a handful of other seats while Richard Tice’s Reform UK could pick up a lot of votes but is also unlikely to get an MP in Parliament.
The reality is that Tice’s hopes are more to act as wreckers for Tory MPs trying to hold on to their seats by splitting the vote.
If the Conservatives really collapse and Nigel Farage makes a return as Reform UK leader then it could get interesting but even so it feels like a long shot for them to win any seats.
Andrew Bridgen believes he can win his old seat for Reclaim
What will the main issues be?
As the US political operator James Carville once said: “It’s the economy stupid”.
In the end the cost of living, the price of mortgages, the level of pensions and the number of jobs will be what decides this election.
It is highly unlikely to be Brexit with avid Leave and Remain supporters all largely decided on how they will vote.
Some would like it to be about the culture wars (spot the references to Starmer taking the knee or not knowing what a woman is) but again this will be a fringe issue.
Foreign affairs on how to handle the EU, China and Russia have so little difference between the main parties as to make no difference.
The one other issue which could be a game changer is Net Zero but it depends on if the Conservatives relax on supporting policies to achieve Net Zero.
Labor have a number of expensive policies in different parts of the UK based on climate change including ULEZ, not building roads, and not drilling for more oil and gas.
But both parties are signed up to banning petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 and eventually forcing people to get rid of gas boilers.
Of course, Net Zero in this sense becomes an economic debate based on the cost of living, jobs and economic growth so it comes back to the original point – it will be the economy which decides the next election.