UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has ruled out calling an early general election this year, indicating that he is working on the assumption that the next national poll will be held in the second half of 2024.
Election Speculation Mounts as Sunak Struggles in Polls
Speculation has been mounting over when Sunak would call the next election, with the opposition Labour party repeatedly demanding an early vote as the Conservatives lag heavily in opinion polls . Sunak took office in October after a tumultuous few months that saw the downfall of two other Conservative prime ministers, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. He inherited a fractured party and a struggling economy.
During a visit to a hospital on Thursday, Sunak told reporters that his “working assumption is that the next election will be in the second half of next year” . While Prime Ministers are only required to call an election every five years under British law, opposition parties have been arguing that the turbulence in government and Sunak’s own lack of a public mandate means an early election is needed.
However, recent polling suggests calling an election anytime soon would be disastrous for the Conservatives. A YouGov poll released Thursday found support for the Conservatives at just 26% compared to 51% for Labour . Sunak’s personal approval ratings have also hit dire new lows .
Table 1: Latest voting intention polls show Conservatives facing electoral wipeout. Data source: 
Faced with the prospect of a crushing defeat, Sunak appears to be gearing up for a campaign to turn around his fortunes in the coming months before going to the country. But time is short to both revive the Conservatives and steady the country’s fragile economy.
Sunak Under Pressure as ‘Nightmare’ Polls Spark Tory Panic
Sunak has endured a baptism of fire since entering Downing Street last October. He has been contending with a cost-of-living crisis, industrial unrest, record NHS waiting lists and the prospect of a recession . The latest polls have sparked fear and panic in Conservative ranks.
One senior Tory MP described the polling situation as “our worst nightmare,” while another warned that the party faced “oblivion” unless it could turn things around . Several MPs who won their seats from Labour in 2019 appear at serious risk of losing them in any early election.
Sunak’s own net approval rating with the British public has fallen to -42 according to YouGov, the worst ever recorded for a Prime Minister by the pollster . Among Conservative members, who elected him as party leader, his rating now stands at -18.
|Sunak Net Approval
|Oct 27, 2022
|Dec 28, 2022
|Strikes, economic woes
|Jan 4, 2023
Table 2: Rishi Sunak’s approval rating has plunged further into negative territory. Data source: 
Sunak Blames ‘Global Challenges’ But Vows to ‘Restore Trust’
In an effort get his leadership back on track, Sunak has pleaded for patience and blamed global factors for the UK’s current malaise. “I fully appreciate how hard things are,” he said in a New Year’s message, vowing action on inflation and NHS waiting lists .
Sunak also promised to “restore trust” in the Conservative party after months of chaos. But besides stabilizing the economy, he faces a monumental task to rebuild his own credibility and revive Tory fortunes before 2024. The Financial Times commented that Sunak will “struggle to craft a compelling narrative for voters” given the dismal situation he inherited .
|Cost of Living
|Inflation hit 11.1% in October 2022, highest since 1981
|Promises to halve inflation, offers energy support
|Record waiting lists, unprecedented strikes
|Vows to “cut waiting lists”. Offers talks but no improved pay offer for nurses
|UK forecast to enter recession in 2023
|Warns of “difficult decisions” on tax and spending to balance budget
Table 3: Rishi Sunak faces multiple crises as he bids to revive Conservative fortunes. Data source: 
Labour Piles on Pressure for Early Vote
Sensing blood in the water, the opposition Labour party has cranked up calls for an early general election to “let the people decide” who should govern the UK. Labour leader Keir Starmer said “Britain deserves so much better than this out of touch, rudderless government,” accusing Sunak of “bottling” a quick election .
|Position on Election Timing
|Rules out early election, targets 2nd half 2024
|Repeatedly demands early election
|Calls for election before 2024 budget
Table 4: Opposition parties unite in demanding early UK election. Data source: 
With the Conservatives in disarray over Sunak, polls suggest Starmer is on course to become the next Prime Minister. One recent survey found that voters prefer Starmer to Sunak by a whopping 31 points . Starmer has sought to present Labour as a viable alternative government after years in the political wilderness.
Outlook: Sunak Faces High-Stakes Battle for Survival
Sunak’s decision to delay the election until 2024 sets up a high-drama battle with Labour over the coming 18 months. The Prime Minister will need to revive both the economy and his own fortunes or face leaving office as one of the shortest-serving premiers ever.
But with Labour still surging as Sunak struggles on multiple fronts, an against-the-odds comeback would be required to prevent a landslide defeat whenever Britons next go to the polls. Some Conservatives are even reportedly plotting a pre-election leadership change if polls don’t improve .
After the turmoil of 2022, British voters hoping for stability will face months more political uncertainty. But the next election, whenever it comes, will likely prove historic: either ending 15 years of Conservative rule or producing an unprecedented result that sweeps Sunak’s divided party from power.
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