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Mid-term elections: PM Sunak keeps FinMin and Tories in the dark on July 4 polls

Mid-term elections: PM Sunak keeps FinMin and Tories in the dark on July 4 polls

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Indian-origin British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak surprised even his Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday when he announced snap elections to the 650-member House of Commons on July 4, staking his Conservative Party’s future amid a series of setbacks at home and abroad.

His decision to hold mid-term polls surprised many as he still had until December 2024 to take a call on the next elections by January 28, 2025. He may have decided after favorable economic data on Wednesday put the inflation rate down at 2.3 percent.

Some ministers did back the election decision. Communities Secretary Michael Gove praised the move in Cabinet. But disappointment was a common sentiment among Tory MPs, including some ministers, as they absorbed the implications of a vote that could cost scores of their seats, with Hunt seen as among the most vulnerable Cabinet members, the media reported on Thursday.

As PM Sunak prepared to reveal his poll decision in a news conference held amid rains outside his official residence at 10 Downing Street in London, Hunt was busy canceling media appearances to speak about the morning’s inflation data and shortening a trip to a meeting of Group of Seven finance ministers on Thursday in Italy.

Only last week, Hunt suggested he might again reduce payroll taxes in an autumn fiscal statement, which the next government may now decide about. Foreign Secretary David Cameron, a former PM now in the House of Lords, on May 12 endorsed plans to wait until later in the year for an election.

The lack of support for a summer vote raised questions about how motivated the party will be to contest Labour leader Keir Starmer’s bid to become the PM. One sitting minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the July 4 date was a terrible idea given the Conservatives have been polling 20 points behind the main opposition Labour Party. A second minister said the timing suggested Sunak had given up and didn’t want to be the PM any longer.

For months, his aides had declined to say when exactly the election would be held, frustrating backbench Tory MPs who complained he was using the threat to keep them from joining efforts to replace him as leader. Conservative rebels had argued that the party was facing oblivion squeezed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the left and the Reform UK party founded by Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage on the right.

Anger within Tory ranks wasn’t just directed at the timing of the election. It was also leveled at Sunak’s mode of announcement, delivered while soaking in the rain outside Downing Street and almost drowned out by music from a protester. Several Tory politicians, including a cabinet minister, said he should have had an umbrella or given his statement inside.

The UK’s first election in five years is shaping up as a battle for the country’s soul, with some saying it poses an existential threat to the governing Conservative Party, which has been in power since 2010.

The center-right Conservatives took power during the depths of the global financial crisis and have won two more elections since then. But those 14 years have been filled with challenges and controversies, making the Tories, as they are commonly known, easy targets for critics on the left and right, the media reported.

Labour, which leans to the left, faces its challenges in shaking off a reputation for irresponsible spending and proving that it has a plan to govern.

Both parties are being ripped apart by the conflict in the Middle East, with the Tories facing charges of Islamophobia and Labour struggling to distance itself from antisemitism that festered under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Scottish National Party, which favors Scottish independence, the Liberal Democrats, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which seeks to maintain ties between Britain and Northern Ireland, are currently the three largest parties in Parliament after the Conservatives and Labour. Many observers suggest the new Reform Party, formed by Tory rebels, may siphon votes from the Conservatives.


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