Sunak signals election could be in second half of 2024

PM says it is his "working assumption" that the general election will take place in the latter part of the year
Rishi Sunak. Photo: Mark Thomas/Alamy

By Caitlin Doherty

05 Jan 2024

Rishi Sunak has said it is his “working assumption” that there will be a general election in the second half of this year following speculation that the prime minister may choose to call it in the spring.

Sunak made the comments suggesting an autumn poll while on a visit in the East Midlands on Thursday. 

“In the meantime, I’ve got lots that I want to get on with,” he added. 

An election must be called by the end of 2024, and Labour is widely expected to enter government, having held a double-digit lead in the polls for over a year. But opinion has remained divided on whether the vote is likely to be in May, or later in the year, as Sunak has indicated today. Ultimately it is in Sunak's gift to decide when to go to the public, having repealed the fixed term parliament act.

Last week, shadow cabinet minister Emily Thornberry described the prospect of a May election as the “worst kept secret” in Westminster, and said that the Budget being announced for 6 March “seems to confirm that”. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was always due to hold a budget in the spring. 

Conservative figures will hope that leaving the contest until later in the year will give time for the economy and Sunak’s polling numbers to improve.

Labour has long been preparing for an election, and the Guardian reported last month that Starmer has told his front bench to get their manifesto policies finalised over the next few weeks. 

CSW sister publication PoliticsHome has been told that the party will focus on attacking the government’s taxation record, as well as accusations of sleaze ahead of the election. 

"There's a reason why the Conservatives have changed prime minister so frequently; they're in the political turmoil that they find themselves so frequently in for a reason,” a Labour source said. 

Starmer kicked off his 2024 with a speech on Thursday morning, in which he issued a plea to the public to believe in politics again, and said the Conservatives’ record has driven the “country I love into decline”. 

He warned that 2024 will see "any opportunity for division" being "exploited for political potential", and said it would be a "huge test" for Labour to not only defeat the Conservatives electorally, but "defeat their entire way of doing politics".

He promised that a Labour government would bring about "a total overhaul of how we approach the economy and government" and a new focus on tackling "tomorrow's problems", including climate change, terrorism, and developments in science and energy technology.

With both Labour and the Conservatives now well into campaign mode, access talks between Labour and the civil service will be expected to start soon. An Institute for Government report released on Thursday warned that the talks should begin immediately if Starmer’s Labour is ready to govern the country effectively.

Caitlin Doherty is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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