Naming the Date

Alastair Meeks
5 min readSep 15, 2023


When should Rishi Sunak be looking to call a general election?

This government has done many bad things but one of its many misguided actions was to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act. It is unconscionable in the 21st century that a government, which already has all the advantages of incumbency, should be able to put its thumb on the scales and select the date for the election that most suits it. Yes, the 2017–19 Parliament was traumatic, as MPs in a hung Parliament with both main parties horribly split over Brexit tried and failed to find a way forward through the chaos. Instead of looking to improve the quality of our politicians, Parliament decided to live with their current inadequacy and rig the system in the government’s favour instead.

Still, it gives Rishi Sunak an interesting problem: when should he call the next election? Obviously, he will keep the option to go at any time if polling improves unexpectedly (or not to go if the situation develops not to his advantage). He needs to have a date written in pencil though to work to. When should that date be?

The polling for the Tories right now is abysmal and if anything it has been getting worse in September. In the 11 polls so far with fieldwork in September, the Tories haven’t reached 30% once and are averaging below 26.5%. So he’s not going to cut and run.

Parliaments with a workable overall majority usually go to full term, which is normally understood to mean after the four year mark. That point is reached on 12 December 2023. The final date by which the election must be called is 28 January 2025. That sets the likely window of possible dates.

Some periods are out of bound except in case of dire emergency. No one will want campaigning over the Christmas period in either 2023 or 2024 and a campaign over the 2024 summer holiday period would annoy everyone (and make canvassing difficult). The risk of bad weather in January and early February is substantial, which could again throw electioneering into chaos.

Easter Sunday is 31 March 2024. It would be possible to hold an election just before or just after that date, but again quite a lot of wealthier people (a group that historically has been more Conservative than average) go away on holiday at that time, so that probably isn’t a great idea for Rishi Sunak.

Ramadan next year is from 10 March to 9 April. Muslims are disproportionately likely not to vote for the Conservatives or canvass for them, so that will be less of a concern for Rishi Sunak.

We can divide the possibilities into the following groups: March 2024; late April to July 2024; late September to early November 2024; and late November/early December 2024. Let’s look at each in turn.

March 2024

The earliest possibility. Rishi Sunak has least time before then to turn the polling around (I doubt he’s too concerned about the possibility that polling might get worse — he’s looking at the politician’s equivalent of Pascal’s Wager here). An important consideration is that the election date will be before the new tax year. That means that voters will not have felt the impact of any tax changes due to take effect.

Indeed, an election held then would have forestalled a full budget. This may have presentational advantages for the government because they could use their manifesto to set out their plans with less rigour than a budget requires. At a time when public finances are under great strain, that must have considerable appeal.

Moreover, this is a period when a lot of voters are feeling slightly more flush. If you pay council tax bills over 10 months, as many do, February and March are months when no council tax payments are due. A government might hope this increases bonhomie a little. 14 or 21 March are contenders.

Late April-July 2024

A new tax year, a different slot. Given that the budget is likely to leave more people worse off and council tax bills are likely to rise again for most, the mood music for this period does not look promising. If Jeremy Hunt can find a way to dole out money to Conservative target voters in the budget, maybe this is an option. Since this looks unlikely, I regard this period as unlikely.

Late September to early November 2024

We’re getting towards the end of the possible window now. This gives Rishi Sunak more time to turn polls around, which he may well regard as needed. He hasn’t really begun his messaging for the election. An election in this period would mean that the party conference season would be scrapped, but that’s not a big deal really.

This is probably the period when an election is most expected. In 2024, however, there is a substantial fly in the ointment that should make Rishi Sunak think carefully about this period.

The US presidential election is held on 5 November 2024. All the signs now are that it will be tight and right now the single most likely candidates are Joe Biden and Donald Trump. There is a high risk that the dynamics of the UK general election will become entangled with the US election. This looks likely to work to Labour’s advantage. Donald Trump is notably unpopular in the UK and Labour are borrowing aspects of Bidenomics for their own programme.

It may be that needs must, but if needs don’t must, Rishi Sunak should probably avoid this period.

Late November 2024/early December 2024

The bitter end. Leaving it to this point might well be presented by the opposition as fear of the electorate. So be it. This would give the maximum period for the polls to turn and would avoid the UK election campaign becoming entangled with the US election: the presidential election winner will (or at least should) be settled by then. And who knows, something might turn up by then.

Set against that is the risk that waiting will simply irritate the public more. As noted above, however, that risk is not one that Rishi Sunak needs to concern himself with much.


In summary, Rishi Sunak has to choose between going early and avoiding having to set a full budget that’s unlikely to warm the cockles of many voters’ hearts and going late, hoping that something will turn up. The early option may be the best option but in practice I expect him to keep hoping. 12 December is a Thursday again in 2024. That’s the date I’m pencilling in as my guess for the general election date.