Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Sunak hints at why he opted for a snap summer election

Rishi Sunak (Photo: Getty)

There is no good answer to the question of why Rishi Sunak called the general election for 4 July, other than that it comes at a time when things are marginally better than they were and before things could get a lot worse. There is, by the way, no good answer to the question of when would be a good time for the Conservatives to hold the election because they are 21 points behind in the polls and largely hate one another and the responsibility of government. 

Sunak wants to make it about his record

This morning, Sunak insisted on his broadcast rounds that the answer to ‘why now?’ was that he had reached a moment of economic stability. This is not a logical position: elections by their very nature create turmoil and it would be easier to argue – as the Prime Minister was saying only a few months ago – that it was better to keep going to ensure economic stability. He did, though, give a clue as to why now might be advantageous: he admitted that there will be no flights to Rwanda before the election. Now, he’s making Rwanda going ahead a key part of his sell. But he also doesn’t have to go to the polls after a summer of more small boat crossings and no evidence that even planes in the sky to Rwanda are working as a deterrent. 

The whole tenor of the launch of the election campaign so far has been that things aren’t going the Conservatives’ way. You could see it in Sunak’s eyes yesterday evening as he stood in Downing Street getting drenched and nearly drowned out by a loudspeaker playing the New Labour anthem ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. You could see it in the facial expressions of the cabinet standing behind him at last night’s rally: many of them had the glassy eyes and fixed smiles of people trying not to cry on TV. They were as surprised as everyone else by yesterday’s announcement, and are having to work themselves into a state of enthusiasm to answer the even tougher question than ‘why now?’, which is ‘why stick with the Conservatives?’.

So far Sunak wants to make it about his record and a ‘better the devil you know’ pitch. But things won’t go his way: his party may have a very different idea of what it wants to say in this campaign.