‘Our plan and our priorities are working’: Rishi Sunak limbers up for UK election campaign centred on economy

UK prime minister confounds predictions of autumn election by calling snap poll for July 4th

The UK’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, will fight the general election campaign on an economic platform, he has suggested.

Sunak, who on Wednesday called a snap election for July 4th, said afterwards he was influenced by the fact that Britain’s economy was growing faster than others such as France and Germany. He also said “inflation has returned to normal”, after data showed the rate slowed to 2.3 per cent in April.

“This is a sign that our plan and our priorities are working. This hard-won economic stability was only ever meant to be the beginning,” he said. “That’s why I called the election.”

The prime minister’s surprise decision to call an early general election ended a day of feverish speculation at Westminster, where previously a campaign had not been expected until the autumn.

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Rumours swirled in the morning that an election might be imminent after it emerged that a cabinet meeting had been arranged for after 4pm under a three-line whip, meaning ministers were obliged to attend in person. Foreign secretary David Cameron had to abandon a trip to Albania while Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, cancelled a trip to Europe.

The first politician to publicly broach the speculation was the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) leader in Westminster, Stephen Flynn, who directly asked Sunak about it during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons shortly after noon.

“Speculation is rife. I think the public deserves a clear answer to a simple question. Does the prime minister intend to call a summer election? Or is he ‘feart’?” asked Flynn, using Scottish slang for afraid.

Sunak declined to give a straight answer but, as it turned out, he was not “feart” at all as he confounded earlier predictions of a November election and told the public: “Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future.”

Earlier, the rumour mill had gone into overdrive in the early afternoon when Sunak’s Downing Street aides did little to quell the speculation in a post-questions briefing for Westminster lobby journalists. Sunak’s press secretary said she would not rule an election “in or out”.

While Tory campaigning on Thursday is expected to kick off in England’s midlands, the early campaign will also be a test further north for the SNP, which has slumped in the polls over the last year and has fallen behind a resurgent Labour Party.

SNP leader and Scotland’s new first minister John Swinney said the campaign would be an opportunity for voters to “remove the Tory government”, an exhortation that ignored the fact that the best way for this aim to be achieved would be to vote Labour.

Labour aims to win at least 25 seats from the SNP in Scotland, which would ease its way to an overall majority in Westminster even if it doesn’t do as well as expected in England.

Back in London, the mood among some in the Tory ecosystem was dour as the election campaign kicked off. The Spectator magazine, which leans to the right and is seen as a bible of sorts by Tory supporters, had been preparing a leader column for its Thursday edition on the prospect of a summer election before it was known that this is what would actually transpire. The magazine opined that a summer election would be a “valley of death” for the party, and a capitulation.

Meanwhile, Labour was straight out of the traps with a call to voters to end “Tory chaos” and return Keir Starmer’s party to power after 14 years in opposition. Labour is 20 points ahead in most polls and, last night, was 1/14 to win an outright majority in betting with Paddy Power.

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