An autumn election
Another option would be to hold an election in the autumn, which would give the PM more time to narrow the polling gap with Labour. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt could prefer to wait until the Autumn budget when he might have built up more fiscal headroom to deploy on tax cuts. However, this could risk seeing a further deterioration in economic activity and a potential defeat of the Conservative Party in the Local elections in May, which could cause reputational damage. Additionally, it is thought that PM Sunak wants to avoid tying the timing of the UK election to that of the US election in November. The increasing odds of a victory for a Donald Trump-led Republican Party in the US election may act against the interests of candidates from the UK Conservative Party. Recent surveys show how radical the US Republican party has become on social issues in comparison to how moderate UK Conservative Party voters now are.5 Therefore, Tory candidates warming up to Donald Trump risk falling out of favor with voters.
Latest possible date
On 17 December 2024 it will be five years since Parliament first met after the last general election. This means that if an election is not called before then, Parliament would be automatically dissolved, and an election would take place 25 working days later, on 28 January 2025. The only benefit from taking this course of action would be providing Conservative Party candidates more time to campaign while hoping that the UK economy does not fall into a deep recession before then. However, campaigning in winter brings difficulties such as bad weather and shorter days, risking lowering the turnout. This would hurt the Conservatives given they tend to have a higher proportion of older voters than the Labour Party.6
Therefore, the odds of a UK general election in May 2024, coinciding with local elections, look to be rising. Civil servants have been asked to prepare for a possible election in the spring and party officials have been given deadlines in early February to finalise their manifestos so that they are ready for the campaign.7
The Conservative Party has a difficult task ahead. Trailing in the polls and with an economy on the verge of recession, PM Sunak needs to time the next election carefully. The upcoming budget represents one of the last chances for the Government to make strong economic announcements ahead of possible election dates. Trying to profit from the potential resulting momentum in May could be their only chance.
1 The formal process to call an early election requires the PM to ask the King to dissolve Parliament, after which the PM announces the date for general election. This starts a period of six weeks before the official poll date.
2 The fiscal headroom is the money available for the Chancellor to spend before breaking the fiscal rules.
4 OBR Economic and Fiscal Outlook – November 2023.
5 Analysis of data from Pew Research, World Values Survey and YouGov. https://go.pardot.com/e/931253/77-124a-472d-925a-fc794737d814/3wt6g/322099990/h/Ewct96d0lBinRdaamm3vG9jzTtBHIROgeK3xwVh-K_M
6 In 2019, Ipsos MORI estimated that Conservatives had a 47-point lead among voters aged 65 and above, while Labour had a 43-point lead amongst voters aged 18-24 and 24-point lead among voters aged 25-34.