When will the general election be?

The general election is likely to be sometime in 2024 and Keir Starmer is the favourite to win.

General election banner with the word vote and a check box next to it
(Image credit: Getty Images)

2024 is set to be a big one for elections, with voters casting ballots in countries accounting for about 4.2 billion or 50% of the global population. Britons will almost certainly be among them. The question is when, says Rachel Cunliffe in The New Statesman

In December, Rishi Sunak told reporters that the election would be held in 2024. The most likely dates are May, October or late November. The decision to implement the tax cuts announced in November’s Autumn Statement in January rather than April and the fact that this year’s Budget would be held on the earlier date of 6 March, along with recent hints of further tax cuts, notably to inheritance tax, suggest that May is the preferred date.

That gives Sunak the chance to “look decisive” and avoid accusations of “clinging on”. Two-thirds of voters want an early election, and another summer of Channel boat crossings could be electorally expensive. 

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“Most obviously,” says Henry Hill in The Guardian, the local elections are on 2 May and it would be advantageous for the general election to coincide. It would “encourage Conservative voters to the polls and help avoid, or at least ameliorate, the devastating loss of councillors that otherwise might result... Wait until after May, and CCHQ will have lost hundreds of its most dedicated foot soldiers: its Tory councillors”. That said, the polls are currently “dismal” for the Tories, with Labour maintaining its poll lead of 15-20 points. Sunak may go “cold on the idea” of a May election if the polls don’t improve.

Nor can Sunak turn the election into a “presidential-style contest”, says Adam Forrest in The Independent. Keir Starmer is the most popular leader in 390 seats, including Sunak’s own Yorkshire constituency, according to a poll by Focaldata,  while Sunak is favoured in just four seats. The “only silver lining” for the prime minister comes from the “don’t-knows” that were ahead in 238 seats.

Could the Tories still take it? A shock Tory win isn’t out of the question, says Luke Tryl in The Telegraph. People today are much more likely to change their minds over a short space of time. 

More than 25% of the “don’t-knows” are “would-be core Tory voters” who are fed up with the current government, but are more likely to vote Tory than Labour, when push comes to shove. Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party could cost the Tories at least 30 seats if it retains its popularity. If the Tories can tempt some Reform voters or persuade the party to stand down, it will “save them seats”. Nor is there much love for Starmer – his approval ratings fall far short of those enjoyed by Tony Blair before Labour’s landslide win in 1997, notes The Times. This might not matter given current distaste for the Tories, but if the economy improves there is a “chance” that the Tories can go into the election on a platform of “don’t risk the recovery with Labour”.

The economy is “central to any Tory comeback”, with the cost of living continuing to far outstrip voters’ other concerns. During controversial secret talks, Dominic Cummings reportedly advised Sunak to make some “big, decisive moves”, such as holding an emergency budget and doubling the 40p income-tax threshold to £100,000, says Katy Balls in The Times. A less dramatic “gear shift” is more likely.

For all the speculation, it is “highly likely” Starmer will enter No. 10 this year, says The Times. Given this and the many “impediments to Britain’s recovery”, Starmer “owes the voters greater candour about how Labour would govern amid hardship at home and conflict overseas”.

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Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.