One-third chance of general election in May, Tory chair reveals

Richard Holden says PM could still call election earlier than expected despite dire Tory polling

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Sunday 31 December 2023 15:23
Keir Starmer tells voters Britain's future 'rests in your hands' in New Year's message

There is a good chance that Rishi Sunak will call an earlier-than-expected general election in the spring, the chair of the Conservative Party has revealed.

Richard Holden said there is still a “one-third” chance that the prime minister will hold an election in May, despite expectations that No 10 wants to wait until the autumn.

It comes as a new poll revealed that Sir Keir Starmer is the preferred choice for prime minister in 390 seats in England, Wales and Scotland – while Mr Sunak is voters’ first choice in just four seats.

And Mr Sunak has been branded “desperate” after Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, claimed to have held top-secret meetings with the current prime minister about the possibility of returning as a No 10 strategist ahead of the election.

Despite the uphill battle faced by the Tories, Mr Holden said the party could be prepared to launch an election campaign in just a few months – shortly after Jeremy Hunt’s spring Budget, which is set to take place on 6 March.

“The chance of a May election is about a third. It is more likely to be at the back end of the year. My job is to be ready whenever it happens,” Mr Holden told The Mail on Sunday.

The cabinet minister also hinted that fresh personal tax cuts will be unveiled in the March Budget, as he played down reports that the prime minister and chancellor could scrap inheritance tax.

Asked about the possibility of the tax being ditched, he said: “What you want is tax cuts that affect as many people as possible.”

Sunak will be accused of ‘bottling’ the election if he waits until autumn

Mr Holden claimed that the Conservatives could still pull off a shock victory in 2024 because the party’s base remains unconvinced by the Labour leader. He said traditional Tory voters could return to the fold “because the threat of Starmer – a man who we do not know what he stands for – is just so great”.

Despite the possibility that the election will take place in the first half of the year, Tory election strategist Isaac Levido has “pencilled in” a likely date for it to be held on 14 November, according to The Sunday Times.

As election fever mounts, a major new seat-by-seat analysis by Focaldata for the Best for Britain campaign group found that Mr Starmer is beating Mr Sunak in hundreds of constituencies on the question of who would be the best prime minister.

Nationally, the Labour leader is ahead of his Tory rival, with 32 per cent to 22 per cent. Only Braintree, Castle Point, Clacton and North Bedfordshire put Mr Sunak ahead of Mr Starmer and those who were undecided.

The poll also shows that 61 per cent of voters want an early general election by May at the latest, with only 17 per cent hoping the prime minister waits until autumn to call the vote.

The Tories have claimed that Labour would pile £2,200 a year on working families to pay for the opposition’s promise to invest £28bn in green jobs. But a Labour spokesperson said the claims are “total garbage and a desperately absurd claim from a Tory Party which has increased taxes on working people”.

Starmer says voters will decide ‘Britain’s future’ in 2024

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak is said to have asked Mr Johnson’s former chief aide for advice as he pushed for a “secret deal” with Mr Cummings to help the Tories win when Britain goes to the polls. Mr Cummings told The Sunday Times that he had urged Mr Sunak to abandon his cautious economic approach, hold an emergency Budget, settle the NHS strikes, and double the threshold at which people pay the 40p rate of income tax from £50,271 to £100,000.

He also reportedly advocated leaving the European Convention on Human Rights as part of a plan to reinvigorate the Rwanda deportation scheme.

No 10 has not denied Mr Cummings’s account of a secret meeting, but said no job offer was made. A Downing Street source said: “It was a broad discussion about politics and campaigning, no job was offered.”

Elsewhere, Brexit campaign financier Arron Banks has said he would seek to raise £10m from defecting Tory donors for Reform UK if Nigel Farage were to make a comeback to lead the party.

“One of the things about Nigel ... is he can cut through to the red-wall seats in a way that Richard Tice doesn’t,” the Leave.EU co-founder told The Sunday Times. “My view is we could raise £10m to kick Reform into the next league – that’s obviously a Nigel-dependent thing.”

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