News & Insights

The shock that was really no surprise

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the UK’s General Election will be held on 4th July. As the media pours over what compelled Mr Sunak to call the election at this point, the UK braces for a intensive six-week period full of politics

LONDON – ‘Surprise your opponent when they may be complacent’ is a well-worn strategy on both military and political battlefields.

Which is why it’s something of a surprise that yesterday’s sudden announcement that the UK’s General Election will be held on 4th July – rather than later in the year, as most expected – has been seen by media as a surprise. 

To observers in other countries, it perhaps came as more of a shock. The EU has been closing in on its June elections for many months, the US election is set in stone for November, and the many other national elections around the world this year could have been scribed onto calendars some time ago.

In the UK, common wisdom for many months has been that when the UK election date was finally decided – a call made by the current Prime Minister – the opposition Labour party would likely cruise to victory.

Now, the real surprise will be if the Conservatives manage to turn around such an enormous current polling deficit and actually win. Most media think that is, putting it mildly, extremely unlikely. The Economist forecasts the chances of Rishi Sunak being the next Prime Minister at 1%.

UK media has been pouring over what compelled Mr Sunak to call the election at this point, and for a date at the height of summer. British voters are rarely asked to go to the polls at this point in the year – although the last time was the Brexit Referendum in 2016, and we all know what happened there.

The Times reported that the Prime Minister told his Cabinet colleagues yesterday, “We have got to own the choice and frame the choice,” referencing a UK economy and financial health that has improved in recent weeks, though from a relatively low base. The Conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph called it a bold move. The left-aligned Guardian projected that a winning majority for opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer could be the largest since 1931.

Referencing Mr Sunak’s much-criticised press statement yesterday, given in pouring rain without a coat, the Financial Times proclaimed that “Things can only get wetter” for the PM.

 

Around the world, most media played their headlines straight, reporting factually over what was announced rather than speculating over why. The Washington Post, Le Monde and Die Welt gave their explanations of events but largely stuck to what is known. Politico called it Mr Sunak’s last roll of the dice.

What now follows is an intensive six-week period during which UK media will be full of politics, but bound by tight-knit rules over impartiality. 

In voters’ minds, the decision over who to bring into power will share headspace with whether England or Scotland can win the Euro 2024 tournament (football, or soccer as some choose to call it), the tennis at Wimbledon, the countdown to the close of the school year, the Glastonbury music festival and of course the unpredictable British summer weather. 

After several years of circus politics, perhaps the biggest surprise will be whether a prospective low turnout at the polls because of voter apathy doesn’t happen, and high numbers of people flocking to the ballot boxes determines the outcome.

But after recent times, many Brits would say that nothing would surprise them, politically. Which is perhaps unsurprising.

Contact

Steve Earl, Partner at BOLDT: [email protected]