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By Martin Liptrot

By Martin Liptrot

A week in America | 23 May 2024

This week Martin reacts to the snap announcement of a UK General Election and why all things American feature so highly in the story...

So, July 4th it is.

2024 was always the year of the two big general elections on both side of the pond, but for a Trans-Atlantic hack like me, it is great that the future of Britain will be decided on US Independence Day.

But it was a curious announcement, and many of my political partners and colleagues are trying to work out why Sunak called it?

One of the big differences between US and UK Elections is the former is a fixed term, the President, his opponents, businesses, and citizens all know that every five years, on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November, there will be a vote.

For those working in the administration, the mammoth lobbying sector, fundraisers, and policy wonks – all have a timetable to work towards. There is stability in that, it is – to quote Donald Rumsfeld, a ‘known known’.

UK elections are different. While still a five-year parliament, there is flexibility.

The latest a Parliament can be dissolved for a general election is on the fifth anniversary of the day it first met. For this current Parliament, that date would have been 17 December 2024.

However, 25 working days are then allowed to prepare for the election so the next election could have been held as late as 28 January 2025.

And unlike the US, the prime minister can call the election at a time of their own choosing, within that five-year period.

That is a fantastic tool for election management.

While the independence of the Bank of England stops the Treasury fiddling with interest rates to create favourable pre-election conditions, the machine of government still has many opportunities to set circumstances which give it a boost.

I was pretty convinced Sunak would take that opportunity.

I thought he would wait for the impact of his budget’s National Insurance cut to trickle into people’s pay packets, that the recent fall in inflation and slight improvement in cost of living conditions would help his economic competence push, and that there was time for a possible interest rate cut and an Autumn budget with a give away for pensioners and homeowners in the shape of changes to inheritance tax and stamp duty.

They will also have hoped to see a plane full of refugees leave for Rwanda.

His handlers will also have privately prayed for England to have a successful flag waving Euro 24 championship, a hot summer which made us all feel happier,

But no.

In the pouring rain, against the audio graffiti of Labour’s election anthem, he surprised everyone by calling an election for July 4th.

Voices on both sides of the political divide were raised in wonder.

Why now?

If Sunak wasn’t going to go long and drag this into the Autumn in the hope the above wish list happened or a surprise change in the circumstances occurred, then his other obvious and sensible option was to have gone on May 4th when the local and regional elections were held.

It would have given the thousands of Tory councillors who lost their seats a fighting chance, with heightened turn out and the inevitable narrowing of the polls, Metro Mayor Andy Street in the West Midlands may well have hung on.

Instead, he let those results crash. That gave pundits and psephologists empirical evidence that the Tories are a distant second to Labour.

That misstep will have further alienated Sunak from the party faithful, the local Conservative Associations, and the legion of supporters you need to run ground operations in a General Election.

These are not the conditions a competent campaign team would have engineered to call an election.

Never mind the cack-handed staging of the announcement – sopping wet, drowned out by protest songs, stood on his own – the decision to call it, which ultimately only Sunak could have called, was unfathomable.

From a political viewpoint it makes no sense, so what was the motivation?

There are a number of stories circulating.

Some speculate the Tory Party was moving to depose him and he had to jump or be pushed.  Some think he may actually believe that things are getting better, and this is his best chance to win it.

But there is one which stands out for me.

With an election done and dusted on July 4th, the moving trucks can be in Downing Street that weekend and the family and all their possessions can be packed up and shipped back to their multi-million-dollar property in California.

Arriving on the Golden Coast in July would give the family plenty of time to get the kids enrolled in school, take a short holiday, and be ready for their new life.

The great irony in all this? –  US school terms follow straight after that great US bank holiday – Labour Day.

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Martin Liptrot

Martin Liptrot is a Public Affairs, PR and Marketing consultant working with UK, US and Global clients to try and ‘make good ideas happen’.

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