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Why Labour – And Quite A Few Tories – Still Believe The General Election Will Be On May 2

Will Rishi Sunak name the date for May 2?
Will Rishi Sunak name the date for May 2? Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty

There is a popular GIF currently doing the rounds in Labour WhatsApp groups.

It shows Justin Timberlake miming for the camera in the video for the NSYNC song It’s Gonna Be Me.

The commonly misheard lyric, however, has been changed to ‘It’s Gonna Be May’ to indicate when they think the general election will be. Yes, that’s what passes for humour in the Westminster village.

Despite all of the apparent evidence that it won’t be, senior Labour figures firmly believe the country will be asked to go to the polls on May 2, coinciding with the local council elections being held on the same day.

With the party miles ahead of the Conservatives in the opinion polls, it’s easy to see why they want Rishi Sunak to get on with it.

But a surprising number of Tories also think that the PM should name the date for a little over seven weeks’ time.

The doctored Justin Timberlake lyric has become a popular gif in Labour circles.
The doctored Justin Timberlake lyric has become a popular gif in Labour circles. WhatsApp

If he does plump for May 2, the prime minister is going to have to get a move on and announce it.

Parliament would need to be dissolved by midnight on March 26, but time would be needed before then to deal with any outstanding legislation – a process known in the jargon as “wash up”.

One theory doing the rounds is that Sunak will wait until his flagship Safety of Rwanda Bill is passed by the MPs before firing the starting gun on the campaign.

“We’ve been working on the basis he’ll get the lectern out in Downing Street at lunchtime on Saturday, March 23, by which time the Rwanda Bill will be done and so there won’t be much else to wash up,” one senior Labour figure told HuffPost UK.

One Tory MP said he believed the PM would name the date even earlier.

“I’m convinced it’ll be on May 2,” he said. “My guess would be he does prime minister’s questions on the 20th and then calls the election at 3pm that day.”

Rumours abound that ministerial diaries have been cleared for April to leave them free to campaign, while the Tory whip – which tells the party’s MPs about upcoming Commons business – only goes up to the 19th of that month.

A Conservative proponent of a May poll told HuffPost UK: “I think we’ve got a few favourable winds at our back right now and Labour are in a bit of a mess, so May is a better option than October.

“It comes down to two questions: do you want the Conservatives or Labour to run the country, and who do you think has the best plan for the future.

The truth of the matter is you’ve seen another tax cut in the Budget, while Labour are coming forward with more spending plans that will mean more taxes.

“We’ll also have got the Rwanda bill through, so that is where our strategic advantage lies – despite what the polls say.”

It is difficult to ignore the polls, however. Ipsos put support for the Conservatives at just 20% last week, while another poll yesterday had the Tories on 18%.

There are some Tories who think things could get even worse as the year goes on.

A former minister said: “The local elections in May will be really bad and cause lots of internal trouble for Rishi, so the way to avoid that is by having a general election on the same day.”

A Tory aide added: “He definitely has to go in May. It will only get worse the longer it limps on.”

Rishi Sunak has a big decision to make.
Rishi Sunak has a big decision to make. WPA Pool via Getty Images

While Sunak has said his “working assumption” is that the election will take place towards the end of the year, he has also been careful not to rule out a May election, demonstrating that it is still in the mix as a possible date.

Given their healthy poll lead, Labour are understandably keen to get on with it.

“Staff in party HQ are being told every day that May is still alive,” said one Labour insider. “If the Tories don’t go for it, what is the point of them? It’ll just look like they’re sitting there waiting for something to turn up, rather than actually running the country.”

A Labour shadow cabinet member said: “We’ll also have another summer of small boat crossings, which would be a terrible election backdrop given Sunak promised to stop them.

“I just think he will conclude its better politically to go now rather than wait till the autumn.”

But a senior Labour aide predicted that Sunak will, in the end, wait until the autumn.

He said: “I think they desperately want to go in May and always have done, but given the backdrop it would go down as one of the worst decisions in political history, and does anyone want that on their tombstone?”

One leading pollster warned that going to the country now would be an act of “self-immolation” for the Tories, and that the PM might as well wait until the autumn in the hope that the political outlook is a bit brighter.

But the truth is that Sunak has now entered the zone where there are no good options.

Ripping the plaster off and going for May may be marginally preferable to the slow, lingering political death of an October or November poll.

Either way, a thumping Conservative defeat seems all-but inevitable.

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