So what happens next?


So Sunak has called an election.  The surprise decision feels designed to bring us up short: maybe there’s more to the guy than we’d thought.  Perhaps we should have expected the unexpected.  What other surprises might he have up his sleeves?

And yet the logic for not calling a snap election remains as sound as ever: the Conservatives remain as far behind as ever and Sunak has just removed his one best hope that “something might turn up” before he was forced to the polls.   I don’t think that he is about to ride the coattails of an English (or Scottish) Euros victory back into Number Ten.  

At best this feels like a damage limitation decision, at worst, it’s an FU moment, revelling in the ability to surprise us all today, while not changing any of the fundamentals for tomorrow.  Perhaps he really has just had enough?

It could be argued that, come the election, there will be a claim which Sunak can make in respect of each of his five priorities: 

The economy appears to be growing again after the recession, but the recession came after he made this particular pledge.  

Inflation has been halved, but still remains above the Bank of England’s two per cent target and – if those who know better than me are to be believed – will increase again in June, before polling day.  

Government debt by any reasonable measure is not falling, as a percent of GDP or in relation to ONS forecasts – but in blunt terms borrowing in March 2024 was £6.4 billion lower than in 2022/23.  

NHS waiting lists are falling from an very high level post-Covid and Sunak has passed a law to stop small boats (the specific pledge), although whether there is any likelihood of it having that impact is a very long shot.  It is possible that a flight will have taken off for Rwanda but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

All of which gives a foundation for a campaign.  Unfortunately, none of is likely to cut through.  It doesn’t chime with people’s everyday experiences: the cost of living crisis goes on for many, daily bills remain high and are increasing; the NHS is still in crisis and there feels little chance of seeing a GP.   And the small boats will keep coming.

So the only reason for going now would be is that Sunak expects even these highly debatable claims to because even more difficult to stand up in four to five months time.  It is a bet on things getting worse rather than better for the Conservatives, which is hardly an encouraging backdrop for a general election.

The bottom line is that the fundamentals of this election were set long ago: “we’ve turned a corner – don’t take the risk” versus “time for a change”.  Even Kwasi Kwarteng, speaking on the Rest is Politics, says that the pendulum has swung too far.   The public is not in the mood to listen to Sunak’s claims.  This election will be about change.  How much is for another day…

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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