Home » Why Rishi Sunak’s surprising early election announcement is a sign he’s received some ‘bleak news’

Why Rishi Sunak’s surprising early election announcement is a sign he’s received some ‘bleak news’

It’s about as close to a crystal ball as you’re going to get, and for the Conservative Party, it wasn’t pretty.

Three weeks ago, the Tories — as they are known colloquially — were routed when Brits went to the polls in a swathe of local elections.

The Conservatives lost 474 councillors around England, and finished third overall with 515, behind Labour (1,158) and the centrist Liberal Democrats (522).

At the time, Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak described the results as “disappointing”.

Some will no doubt argue that’s a wild understatement of the ballot box catastrophe seemingly heading his party’s way soon.

Sunak made a surprise announcement on Wednesday that a UK general election would take place on July 4.

Legally, it didn’t have to be held for another six months. Many experts were convinced it would be in October or November.

The UK government has been facing the worst wave of industrial action in decades.(Reuters: Toby Melville)

The decision to call a snap poll might point to how desperate things have become inside the party.

“Someone, somewhere has told him things are not going to get any better from where they are right now,” says British political commentator Ian Dunt.

That’s saying something. The Conservatives have trailed in every opinion poll published since January 2022.

Lately, the results have been particularly dire. A YouGov sample published in The Times newspaper last week had Labour’s lead at a whopping 27 percentage points.

A survey of 2,295 people by Savanta published in The Telegraph — also last week — had the Tories trailing by 17 points.

“He’s basically being told this is probably as good as it’s going to get, which is pretty bleak news for him because it means his election prospects are very poor,” Dunt says.

Suank also trails Opposition Leader Sir Keir Starmer as preferred PM in the polls, and there had been constant whispers inside Westminster he could have faced a leadership challenge in the coming months.

Former minister Penny Mordaunt, favoured by right-wingers in the party, was said to have been canvassed, but she recently described that as “bollocks”.

Crushing defeat might be as good as it gets

The Conservatives’ woes are arguably adjacent to its current leader.

Sunak might not be popular, but it’s the party that many see as the problem.

Since winning government in 2010, the Tories have churned through five prime ministers.

While Brits in 2016 voted to leave the European Union in a referendum, several surveys now show a majority of people believe that was a mistake.

An inquiry has also heard damning evidence about the Conservative government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the deaths mounted and with gatherings heavily restricted, the so-called Partygate scandal — which detailed Tory politicians and staffers flouting restrictions — was a major factor in then-Conservative PM Boris Johnson’s downfall.

The state of the National Health Service (NHS) is also seen as a key concern for people in the UK. Ipsos data published in March outlined that 35 per cent of Brits described it as “an issue”.

Health workers have been striking around the country for 18 months over pay and conditions. The NHS’s own data from earlier this year revealed one in every 20 patients had to wait more than four weeks to get a doctor’s appointment.

A man in a suit speaks to a small crowd of people outdoors, including some holding political signs

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is well ahead in the polls.(Reuters: Scott Heppell)

Few Britons could say their lives are better now than they were before this long Conservative run in office.

Record inflation since the pandemic means everything from houses to groceries are more expensive and people simply have less money in their pockets.

Conveniently timed, lower-than-expected inflation figures released on Wednesday point to “brighter days” ahead, Sunak says.

But it’s worth remembering that while inflation has eased, it does not mean that the prices of goods and services are coming down, just that they are rising less quickly.

“People are going through the most severe cost-of-living crisis they’ve had in most of our lifetimes. And it’s taking place against the background of catastrophic, almost systematic failure of public services,” Dunt says.

When you can’t keep a lid on cost of living, the next-best political strategy is to shift attention to policy areas that stoke fear and create division.

In recent months, Sunak has been laser-focused on passing his controversial immigration policy to deport asylum seekers to the east African country of Rwanda.

The idea to “Stop the Boats” may have started under Boris Johnson and echoes Australia’s own immigration policy, but Sunak has made it the centrepiece of his election campaign.

It’s the one thing he can at least look like he’s got under control.

After years of legal and political delay, Sunak finally managed to get the bill passed both houses of parliament last month.

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