UK General Elections 2024: Why has Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for July 4 polls — explained

UK Elections 2024: Rishi Sunak's decision to hold early elections on July 4 triggered a divided response within the Conservative Party as the opposition Labour Party led by Keir Starmer poses strong competition.

Jocelyn Fernandes
First Published23 May 2024
UK Polls 2024: File image of voters at a polling station in north London to cast their ballot in local elections, on May 2. These were the last major electoral test before July's general elections where Sunak's party, in power since 2010, seems destined to lose to the Labour opposition.
UK Polls 2024: File image of voters at a polling station in north London to cast their ballot in local elections, on May 2. These were the last major electoral test before July’s general elections where Sunak’s party, in power since 2010, seems destined to lose to the Labour opposition. (AFP / Benjamin Cremel)

UK General Elections 2024: United Kingdom's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a snap general election on July 4. In a statement from Downing Street on May 22, Sunak said he spoke to King Charles earlier that day to request the dissolution of Parliament for a general election. 

“The king has granted this request and the general elections will be held on July 4,” Sunak announced. This would be the country's first election in five years, and is emerging as a significant contest, with some suggesting it could threaten the governing Conservative Party's future. 

Conservatives Expected to Lose to Opposition

According to a Reuters report, Sunak's party, the Conservatives, which has been in power for the last 14 years, is expected to lose this election to the opposition Labour Party led by Keir Starmer. The Tories are trailing Labour in all opinion polls.

Public opinion regarding Sunak's government has been on the downhill track — Labour is running about 20 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives. Since taking the PM's post less than two years back, he has tried and failed to position himself as a reformer, technocrat, and steady leader, the report said. The global cost-of-living crisis has, however, overshadowed any successes, it added.

Thus, his decision to hold early snap elections received a divided response from his own party. Some Tories believe the time is right for an election, considering potential legal challenges and economic uncertainties, while others were shocked by the decision.

Sunak v/s Starmer

Standing outside his Downing Street office in heavy rain to announce the elections, Sunak listed his achievements — both as prime minister and former finance minister, the report noted.

“Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future and decide whether it wants to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one and no certainty. Over the next few weeks, I will fight for every vote, I will earn your trust and I will prove to you that only a Conservative government led by me will not put our hard earned economic stability at risk,” he said.

He also accused Starmer of, “always taking the easy way out and having no plan. As a result, the future can only be uncertain with them”.

Meanwhile, Starmer, who has shifted Labour to the political centre, focused on "change" in his response, the report said. “On July 4, you (voters) have the choice, and together, we can stop the chaos, turn the page, start to rebuild Britain, and change our country,” the Labour leader said.

Campaign Battle Lines

Both parties have started campaigning, focusing on the economy and defence. Sunak's government accuses Labour of planning tax increases and being unprepared for global challenges, which Labour denies. Labour blames the Conservatives for economic mismanagement over the past 14 years, resulting in instability and slow growth.

Despite Labour's lead, some officials worry their advantage is not solid, with many voters undecided. Notably, if Labour wins, Britain will see six prime ministers in eight years, a situation not experienced since the 1830s.

UK Elections: Key Facts

  • Early Elections Called: Sunak has set the election for July 4, months ahead of the expected date. He had until December to call an election, which could have taken place as late as January 28, 2025.
  • How Do Early Elections Benefit Sunak? The timing was a strategic move to benefit the Conservative Party. Economic factors expected to improve by autumn were initially seen as advantageous, according to the Institute for Government. Recent favourable economic news, with inflation dropping to 2.3 percent, altered the timing strategy. 
  • How UK Elections Work: Voters across the UK will elect all 650 members of the House of Commons for a five-year term. The party with a majority in the Commons, either alone or in coalition, will form the next government, with its leader becoming prime minister. 
  • Key Candidates: PM Sunak, in office since October 2022, will lead the Conservative Party. Starmer, Labour Party leader since April 2020 and former Director of Public Prosecutions, will be the main opponent. Other significant parties include the Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats, and Democratic Unionist Party. The new Reform Party, formed by former Conservatives, may also impact the results.

UK Elections: Major Issues Explained

  • Economy: Britain faces high inflation and slow growth, making many feel poorer. Although the Conservatives halved inflation from its peak of 11.1 percent in October 2022, the economy entered a technical recession in late 2023, raising doubts about their policies. 
  • Immigration: The issue of asylum seekers and economic migrants crossing the English Channel has raised border control concerns. The Conservative plan to deport some migrants to Rwanda faces criticism for being inhumane and ineffective. 
  • Healthcare: The NHS struggles with long waiting lists and delays in services, leading to public frustration over healthcare delivery. 
  • Environment: Sunak has delayed environmental commitments, such as ending sales of petrol and diesel vehicles and approving new North Sea oil drilling, which critics argue undermines efforts to combat climate change.

(With inputs from Reuters, AP and other agencies)

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HomeNewsworldUK General Elections 2024: Why has Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for July 4 polls — explained

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