British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s year has got off to a miserable start as one of the first polls of 2024 underlined the massive challenge the prime minister faces to win a general election.
The country will go to the ballot box sometime before late January next year, with the prime minister suggesting this week a vote could take place in autumn.
But the Tory leader may be tempted to go earlier to stem the bleeding after a poll from We Think, carried out on Thursday and Friday, put Labour on 47 percent – a full 22 percentage points clear of the Tories, and an extension of its advantage by 5 points.
It suggests the longer he waits the heavier the Tory defeat, and this week’s mini-tour of the country and media appearances ahead of MPs returning to parliament has not produced an appreciable “bounce”.
The survey also showed Labour leader Keir Starmer extending his lead over Sunak to 14 points when voters were asked “who’d be the best prime minister”.
And in another sign that Sunak’s authority is eroding further, former minister Chris Skidmore announced on Friday he is quitting the party in protest at Sunak failing to take climate change seriously.
Meanwhile, the PM was booed, heckled and told to “resign” by voters as he left a cafe in Stockport.
The prime minister announced on Thursday his “working assumption” was he would delay going to the country until the “second half” of 2024.
His comments suggest the election will be held in either October or November, as had been widely expected. But it comes following speculation Sunak could decide to call the election for May.
Labour seized on the remarks as a sign he had “bottled” facing the British public and accused Sunak of “squatting” in Downing Street.
On Friday, the country’s leading polling expert said Sunak was likely to call the general election for November 14.
In Britain, each electoral term is supposed to last five years, and the latest possible date for the country to go to the polls would be January 2025.
But under the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, a prime minister has the power to call an election earlier than the deadline.
Sunak is clearly likely to pick a date most favourable to him and his party.
His decision could be based on not just whether he can snatch an unlikely victory from the jaws of defeat, but also under the grimest projections if he can reduce the number of seats the Tories lose and prevent a 1997-style Labour landslide.
The next big political fixture is the spring budget, when chancellor Jeremy Hunt could magic up some tax and spending commitments that sit well with the electorate. It was the announcement of the March 6 fiscal event that prompted speculation of an spring budget, and a blitz of crowd-pleasing promises could yet encourage Sunak to go early.
Other than pushing taxpayers’ money around, he may be on the lookout for something to materialise, and that could lead the country to waiting until the last minute. Three areas in particular will be on his radar: the economy, immigration and an apparent lack of enthusiasm for the Labour alternative.