Why British PM Rishi Sunak called snap election for July 4, according to expert


(LONDON) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for a snap general election in the United Kingdom on July 4, despite having until January of next year to hold one. Sunak, the leader of the ruling Conservative Party, and leaders of other political parties have already started their election campaigns.

On a rainy Wednesday, the 44-year-old delivered a surprise announcement outside the prime minister’s official residence at 10 Downing Street in London. Unlike in the U.S., Britain’s parliamentary system gives the ruling party a five-year term and allows it to call an election at any time.

ABC News Foreign Correspondent James Longman believes Sunak’s unexpected announcement is in part meant to demonstrate confidence as his Conservative Party faces an uphill struggle to extend its 14 years in power – years marked by a succession of generally unsuccessful leaders amid growing domestic problems.

“Start Here” spoke with Longman about the upcoming snap election, the likely reasons for it, and the problems that Britons and their leaders are facing.

START HERE: James, I assume the 4th of July doesn’t matter at all over there, but if you’re the prime minister and you have the power to set an election date, I imagine you do it at a time you think will be advantageous to you. Why was this so sudden?

LONGMAN: Well, I mean, that’s just our system. And I think it was a prime minister in Rishi Sunak who’s just trying to play one last hand, trying to show perhaps confidence, taking a shot, rolling the dice. Because, you know, most people assume that his ruling party, the Conservatives, are going to lose the next election. It’s just a question of by how much.

Now, this was a massive shock. It’s been bubbling for some time – the idea that he’s going to call an election soon-ish, we just didn’t know when. The system in Britain is a parliamentary system. Basically, the ruling party has five years in office and they can choose at any time to call an election. We thought that he was going to hold off for as long as possible to remain prime minister, for the conservatives to stay in government. We thought perhaps we were going to clash with a U.S. election in November, perhaps even as long as January, to try to see some kind of economic recovery and therefore sell to the country, you know, it’s not that bad, things are getting better.

But no, he came out with this shock announcement. I have to say, it was all rather depressing. He stood in the rain outside Downing Street. He didn’t look like a man about to announce an election; he actually sounded like he was about to resign. There was one point, someone with a speaker phone down the end of Downing Street played “Things Can Only Get Better,” which was the theme tune to the 1997 Labour winning election campaign. So the whole thing was pretty miserable. I think the Labour Party, the opposition, will be very happy about this, the beginning of this election. But look, it’s been 14 years of conservative control in Britain. Most people assume that they’re not going to win the election. He’s trying to take the bull by the horns, if you like. But it wasn’t a very confident start.

START HERE: What is going so wrong for his party, for the Conservatives. I mean, what what’s happening that is so politically damaging right now?

LONGMAN: Well, there’s the economics, which has been bad around the world. You know, inflation has been high in many countries. The United States, people are worried about their bills. It’s exactly the same situation in Britain. The war in Ukraine has meant that energy prices have gone up. COVID, the pandemic caused massive labor shortages. So there have been issues beyond the this conservative government’s control.

But by and large, people think that the country is stagnating. We have a huge crisis at the moment with sewage being pumped into our waterways. We have an NHS, the National Health Service, which is not working. We have massive, massive waiting lists for people to get surgeries, with ambulances waiting outside hospitals. Built lots of schools that are in buildings which are not fit for purpose. In just about every way, people look at various different issues across society and say, look, the country can’t really see the benefit of 14 years of a conservative government.

That, plus the politics of all this, because the Conservative Party seems to have been eating itself. We’ve had successive prime ministers, successive leaders. Remember David Cameron, he had to step down because he had wanted for the United Kingdom to remain in Europe. So Brexit ripped the party apart. Since his time in office, we’ve had Theresa May and then Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss, and now Rishi Sunak, and it’s just been one after the other. So I think there’s a general sense in the country that the Conservative Party are a party on the way out and they haven’t been doing themselves any favors in kind of projecting that image. It’s going to be difficult for any party after 14 years in government to project an image of that they’re the ones with the solutions, because every time they say, “We’re going to fix a problem,” people say, “Well, what have you been doing for the last 14 years?” The big question is, who’s going to be their replacement?

START HERE: So if it’s not the Conservative Party – you’d assume if Rishi Sunak is the one calling the election that he would think of himself as the frontrunner, but who is the frontrunner, then, if not him?

LONGMAN: Well, he is going to be leading the Conservative Party into this election so there’s not going to be a conservative leadership battle, another one, thank God. But the most likely prime minister is going to be Keir Starmer, who is the leader of the Labour Party. Been out of power for quite some time, like I say, 14 years. He’s been leader of the Labor Party for the last five years. He’s considered, not really a showman, I think that’s putting it mildly. He’s uncharismatic, would be more critical. Boring. his critics might say, I don’t know if in the U.S. you ever saw Mr. Bean, but he is a little bit like that. He’s got horn-rimmed specs and he’s a former public prosecutor. He’s not someone who necessarily, you know, can rouse a crowd. But I think maybe after 14 years of conservative government and all the psychodrama of Brexit and Boris Johnson and Partygate, maybe people are in this country ready for a little bit of boring.

But his issue, though, Keir Starmer, is that people don’t really know very much about him. So that’s what this campaign is going to be all about. Six hundred and fifty MPs sit in Parliament. Now, if they had a majority – Labour at the moment are so far behind given the 2019 result, which saw a massive conservative majority under Boris Johnson, that they would have to have a massive swing. So it’s all to play for.

START HERE: Right. Sometimes this results in power-sharing agreements: You’re voting for the party, not the person. So we’ll see how this all shakes out. But really wild timing here. James Longman, there in London. Thank you so much.

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