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When Will The Election Be? Scenario Three: October/November ’24

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The right to choose the General Election date is one of the few residual advantages that Rishi Sunak enjoys as we approach the coming campaign. In this post, we consider an autumn election in October or November 2024.

CONSERVATIVE ELECTION THEME: "DON’T RISK THE RECOVERY”

Sunak and his team will be hoping that an autumn election gives enough time for circumstances to turn in his favour. He has already said that he expects an election to happen in the second half of 2024. An improving economy, seasonal fall-off in small boat crossings, and easing pressure on NHS waiting lists could give Sunak material to make his “Don’t Risk It” messaging.

Sunak may look to the election of 1970 for inspiration. Back then, Heath trailed Wilson by double-digits in the polls, but a series of poor economic data unsettled the public and Heath surprisingly unseated the incumbent Labour government. Sunak will be hoping that positive economic momentum will have the opposite effect and again confound the pollsters.

Economic Considerations

It is expected that if inflation falls in line with the Bank of England’s expectations, perhaps multiple small cuts to interest rates would be more likely to happen in the back half of 2024. Likewise, that may give the economy time to limp out of the current recession.

Key economic dates in the autumn will be the ONS GDP Monthly Estimate Reports on 11th September, 11th October and 14th November as well as the Bank of England interest rate decisions on 19th September and 7th November. If Sunak doesn’t benefit from a Budget Bounce in March, then he will be hoping that this plethora of economic data will boost his Party’s fortunes. This may also give him the political space to direct public attention to whether Labour’s economic plans stack up, while being able to point to tentative green shoots of economic progress.

The State of the NHS

If the pattern of the last 14 years is sustained this year, the autumn months should see the rate of growth in NHS waiting lists slow or even fall again. Observe Figure 3 for these patterns.

Source: BMA analysis of NHS England Consultant-led Referral to Treatment Waiting Times statistics

Small Boat Crossings

An autumn election may make the issue of small boats difficult to campaign on, coming as it would after a likely summer surge in crossings, but this timeline may mean that the government’s much vaunted Rwanda deportation flights have begun. The benefit of this for Sunak could be the issue getting more prominence – something his strategists think may play to his advantage. Likewise, autumn might allow the PM to argue that the numbers were falling and that structurally the deterrent impact of his Rwanda policy was working.

Source: Migration Watch UK Channel Crossing Tracker

Other Factors

Commentators have suggested that Number 10 could steer clear of calling an election in the same week as the US Presidential election of the 5th November 2024. There is no rule or even official convention that requires these two events to be separated but, in this year, simultaneous elections would come with considerable jeopardy. At a time of heightened geopolitical competition and multiple conflicts, an overlapping election may provide the US and UK’s foes with an opportunity. Simultaneous UK and US elections, and any subsequent transitions, bring potential security challenges, online disinformation opportunities, or even coordinated cyber-attacks from hostile actors. However, it is to be remembered that both countries still have functioning governments on international and defence policy during an election period. In the UK, purdah doesn’t inhibit necessary foreign policy activity.

An autumn election campaign may also risk clashing with the parties’ annual conference season – traditionally a source of campaign fundraising for both political parties. An October election would likely see Labour’s Conference from September 22nd to 25th and the Conservative Conference from 29th September to 2nd October impacted. A November election would however allow the PM the possibility of announcing the election date in his Conference keynote speech.

One further factor is that the clocks go back an hour on the 27th October this year heralding the imminent arrival of winter. It isn’t possible for the PM to announce an election at his conference and for polling day to then be before the clocks go back.

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