Snap poll: On the surprise election announcement for the U.K.

Rishi Sunak seems to have sensed a small window of opportunity for his party 

Updated - May 24, 2024 12:35 am IST

Published - May 24, 2024 12:10 am IST

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sprung a surprise election announcement when he revealed that the United Kingdom would head to the polls on July 4. While the incumbent government of the Conservative Party was not required to call for an election until January 2025, almost since the day Mr. Sunak entered 10 Downing Street, most polls have suggested that his party would lose the next election by a margin of over 20%, the likes of which are “usually only seen at exceptionally bad moments in the midterm”. It is possible that Mr. Sunak and his team seized upon the political capital that may accrue to them from the recent announcement that the U.K.’s inflation rate has dropped to 2.3%, the lowest in at least three years. There might have been a few other factors including a positive assessment of Mr. Sunak’s cabinet in steadying the economic ship in the post-COVID-19 scenario, and a legal victory securing the government’s plans to implement immigration reforms that will see some asylum seekers sent to Rwanda to have their applications processed there.

While it is true that polls suggest voter frustration at the end of 14 unbroken years of rule by the Conservative Party, Mr. Sunak’s comment that this election will take place at a time where the world is “more dangerous than it has been at any point since the end of the Cold War”, is not without merit. Indeed, the denouement of the long-drawn Russian invasion of Ukraine could make or break the security paradigm for Europe and the U.K., including not only serious questions regarding territorial sovereignty on the eastern front but also energy security with knock-on effects for prospects for economic stability. Similarly, the churn in West Asia, including the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Gaza and the strategic churn punctuated by the threat of war in the Iran imbroglio, will have echoes throughout the region and certainly for the U.K. Finally, it is unclear that even with the Rwanda plan receiving a legal green light, the Sunak government has been able to have a tangible impact on small boat crossings at a broad level. Contrarily, government statistics indicate that even though such arrivals dropped by around 33% during 2022 and 2023, boat crossings for 2024 are at a “record high” by comparison, and between January 1 and May 21 of this year more than 9,800 people crossed the U.K.’s border through such means. In this context, his remark that the Labour Party would want people to think “this election is over before it’s even begun” might not be wrong, but he and his colleagues would do well to ask where the opposition’s confidence in this regard stems from.

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