Wednesday 25 October 2023

Mystic Meg slot - When will Rishi Sunak call a general election

 For a bit of fun, at the start of the year, I make a month by month set of predictions for the year. Last year I gave myself an 8/10. This year if I get 1/10 I'll be doing well. I predicted that the Tories would sack Rishi Sunak would resign in July, and be replaced by a resurgent Boris Johnson. As for October


Five days before the election, Dominic Cummings releases his memoirs. This is a horror show for Boris. A soft pack between the Lib Dems and Labour see's the Lib Dems take 30 seats from the Tories in the South of England. Labour achieve an 85 seat majority, which Boris claims is a victory for him. Many Tory MP's breath a sigh of relief that they still have a job and it wasn't as bad as seemed likely when Sunak was in charge. Jeremy Hunt is knighted and Boris resigns. We are faced with yet another Tory Leadership contest although no one really seems that bothered. 

Given that Boris has left the Commons and current predictions state that the Tories will lose 200 seats, I daresay a fair few Tories wish I'd been right. 

So having established my credentials as a pretty rubbish soothesayer (I also predicted that Arteta would leave Arsenal for Real Madrid at the the end of last season!), I thought I'd turn my attention to the next General Election.

One way or another we have to have one by January 2025. It is unlikely that this would happen. If we had the election in January, there is a change that snow/bad weather may affect it. Whilst it may be a fitting end to this Parliament, to have an election where everyone was snowed in and couldn't vote, I doubt that even Rishi Sunak would think that was a good idea.  The most likely dates for it would be May or November. May would have the advantage that the Tories could do a big giveaway budget, to try and shore up their vote. They could set a few traps for Labour, with populist giveaway tax breaks, that would damage the economy, but be popular. Labour would be faced with the dilemma ofreversing them and losing votes or being hamstrung with policies they don't like that circumvent policies they do like.

As for November, this would follow on from the conference season. Jeremy Hunt could announce a giveaway autumn statement at the Tory party conference and send the troops out to knock on doors, rejuvenated by a poll boost. The Conservatives are extremely good at doing things that win elections. I would not be surprised. 

So which of these scenarios are more likely. My bet is on May. I suspect that they will plan for a May election, do the giveaway budget and hope the polls shift. If they don't tNovember and hope for a poll bounce. If they are planning a November election, then they have nowhere to go if events take a turn for the worse. 

So what measures will the Tories consider to boost their popularity? Here are a few things I suspect will be a part of any plan.

1. Abolish inheritance tax, or increase the threshold to £2 million. With inflation, especially in property, many ordinary families are now caught by this. It would be a policy that would appeal to a lot of aspirational middle class people tempted by Labour but sitting on estates that fall into tax. I've always felt that if they reduced it from 40% to 5%, this would result in an increase in tax take, as the super rich spend millions on tax avoiding trusts etc. It would not be worth it anymore, so the amount of tax taken by the treasury would likely go up. It is worth remembering that David Cameron announcing that he was abolishing this tax, gave the Tories a huge poll boost, causing Gordon Brown to postpone the election he was planning. Labour never recovered from this. 

2. Increase the national minimum wage significantly. This puts money in people's pockets and costs the government nothing. For people running small businesses, it is a nightmre, but everyone else seems to benefit. Putting cash in peoples pockets does win votes.

3. Increase the top rate tax threshold significantly. This will help aspirational middle England to feel sympathetic to the Tories.

4. Windfall tax on energy companies to fund a one off tax cut. The energy companies have made a killing with high energy prices. It has been beyond my comprehnsion why there has been no windfall tax. I have concluded that this is  a joker the Tories can only play once, so they will play it before an election and give the cash away as some sort of energy discount for voters.

5. Scrapping or cutting green taxes. The Tory grassroots hate these. I suspect that Sunak has this as another Ace up his sleeve.

So will these work and what will Labour do?

That is a very good question. I suspect the first thing they will do is wait and see how the markets react. Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeve are not stupid. I am sure they will have gone through all of these options, the likely response of voters and markets and their responses. Some of these, they know they will just have to live with. I suspect they will accept the minimum wage rise, the increased tax thresholds and any inheritence tax changes. The windfall tax will be done so there is nothing they can do. That leaves green taxes. I suspect Labour will announce a review, put a sympathetic Tory/ex Tory in charge and bring back a modified scheme, that they will announce will work better. The Tories will get a poll boost, but I suspect that it will not be as big as they hoped. 

Then there are other polices that the Tories belieeve are popular. The problem they have with policies on things like immigration is that they've been in power for 13 years, so big announcements will be met with cynicism, and they just demonstrate that they've failed. I believe that Suella Braverman believes that if a couple of dozen people are sent to Rwanda before the election, it will give them a poll boost. I doubt that the public will fall for this. The public see all of these stunt based politics for what they are. 

There will also be a lot of bashing of the European Court of Human Rights. Right wing Tories believe that the public are obsessed with this. They are not. Most people I know on all sides of the political spectrum see the governments issues with the ECHR see it as much as government ineptitude in rushing through ill thought out policies. I suspect that Braverman will try and pick a big fight, as a pretext to withdraw from the Jurisdiction, but as this will have no effect on ordinary peoples lives, it will simply show that the government are not capable of engaging with the wider world in a mature, intelligent fashion. 
The next Tory Leader with his best mate?

I also suspect that the Tories will talk up "the death of Brexit" with Labour. I don't believe this is a vote winner either. I don't see any signs at all the Brexit has made people happier or more prosperous. Of course there are people who still passionately believe in it, but they, by and large, feel that the Tories failed to deliver a real Brexit. I suspect that what Brexit ultras who vote Tory want is Nigel Farage to rejoin the Tories and become the next leader. I suspect that the only way this will happen is if they get clobbered at the next election and Farage and his supporters know this. In my view, should this happen, Farage will do to the Tories what Corbyn did to Labour. 

There are several other things in play that will not help the Tories. Not least, the fact that many of their MP's are 'retiring'. There will be no personal loyalty vote. A bunch of fresh faces, with no track record will cost at least a couple of thousand votes in many constituencies. 

In my analysis above, I mentioned that there would be a non aggression pact between the Lib Dems and Labour. On first glance, the Mid Bedfordshire vote may show that this is a pipe dream. I believe the opposite is true. Both parties believed the seat was in play. There are many seats where they are not and in a General election, party resources are spread far thinner. The parties will pore over the result and I believe lessons will be learned. But hey, ho what do I know. I predicted that the SNP's vote share would rise in August!

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