22 May 2024, 23:17
Update : 22 May 2024, 23:24

UK PM Sunak calls general election for July 4

LONDON, May  22, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on
Wednesday set a general election date for July 4, ending months of speculation
but not doom-laden forecasts about the size of the government's expected defeat.

The poll will be the first time Sunak, 44, faces the public while in
charge, after he was appointed leader of the largest party in parliament by
Conservative MPs in October 2022.

The vote -- the third since the Brexit referendum in 2016 -- comes as Sunak
seeks to capitalise on better economic data to woo voters hit by cost-of-living

Halving inflation within a year from historic highs of above 11 percent at
the end of 2022 was one of the former financier's five key pledges.

That happened last year and on Wednesday rates slowed to a near three-year
low at 2.3 percent in March, prompting finance minister Jeremy Hunt to declare:
"This is proof that the plan is working."

Sunak, in a Downing Street statement made in driving rain after he gathered
his top ministers, said he had spoken to head of state King Charles III and
requested the dissolution of parliament.

"The king has granted this request and we will have a general election on
July 4," he said, adding: "Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future."

Political commentators have increasingly suggested that Sunak, trailing
badly in the polls to the main opposition Labour party, could try to seek a
bounce from the healthier outlook.

But critics point out that is more to do with changes in the global economy
than government policy.

Sunak had previously batted back all efforts to name a date, saying only
that he would go to the country in the second half of this year.

Speculation mounted again after Sunak and his top officials on Wednesday
refused to deny fresh talk that he was about to call an election on the back of
the more positive data.

Rumours went into overdrive when Foreign Secretary David Cameron was
recalled from a trip to Albania and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps delayed a
trip to eastern Europe to attend a cabinet meeting.

Hunt also cancelled a scheduled television interview for Wednesday evening,
ITV's political editor said, as journalists, photographers and camera crews
flocked to Downing Street.

- Uphill task -

The economy -- hit by external factors such as Covid and more
self-inflicted wounds such as Brexit and former premier Liz Truss -- will be a
key battleground.

But Sunak faces an uphill task to convince the public that the country's
finances are still safe in Tory hands after 14 years in power.

Sunak has tried to steady the ship since succeeding Truss, whose 49-day
tenure ended after her unfunded tax cuts sent household bills soaring, spooked
the markets and crashed the pound.

Immigration -- another key issue since the government's vote-winning pledge
to "take back control" of Britain's borders after Brexit -- remains politically

Sunak -- the Tories' fourth leader since 2016 -- has talked tough to "stop
the boats" of irregular migrants crossing the Channel from northern France.

But his controversial scheme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda has yet to
get off the ground, as costs and legal challenges mount.

Resurgent Labour, under former human rights lawyer Keir Starmer, has
meanwhile been consistently ahead of the Tories by 20 points for almost two

That has sparked talk of a landslide similar to the first of Tony Blair's
three election victories -- and even a near wipe-out for the Tories.

Starmer, 61, and his top team have in recent weeks been putting flesh on
the bones of their election pitch, nearly five years after the party was
thrashed by Boris Johnson and his vow to "Get Brexit Done".

Last week, Starmer set out six key pledges notably more electorally
friendly than the hard-left policies of his divisive predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

Starmer, a pro-European centrist, promised economic stability, shorter
health service waiting times and a new border security command to tackle
irregular immigration.

He also vowed to establish a publicly owned clean energy company, crack
down on anti-social behaviour with more neighbourhood police and recruit 6,500
new teachers.

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