Rishi Sunak at an election rally
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a rally to launch the general election campaign. (Photo: Edward Massey / CCHQ, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

British vot­ers will soon be head­ing to the polls to decide the future of their country. 

Prime Min­is­ter Rishi Sunak announced today that he’s advised King Charles III to dis­solve Par­lia­ment and call a snap gen­er­al elec­tion for July 4th, 2024 (the same day the Unit­ed States will be cel­e­brat­ing its inde­pen­dence from the UK!) at which the peo­ple of Britain will decide whether to keep the Con­ser­v­a­tives in pow­er or send them pack­ing. Pub­lic opin­ion polling sug­gests that the rival Labour Par­ty has a big lead and is well poised to win after more than a decade and a half of serv­ing as the monar­ch’s loy­al opposition. 

“Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future, to decide whether we want to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one with no plan and no cer­tain­ty,” said Sunak in a state­ment to the press out­side of No. 10 Down­ing Street. “Ear­li­er today, I spoke with His Majesty the King to request the dis­so­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment. The King has grant­ed this request and we will have a gen­er­al elec­tion on 4 July.” 

“You must choose in this elec­tion who has that plan, who is pre­pared to take the bold action nec­es­sary to secure a bet­ter future for our coun­try and our chil­dren,” Sunak told vot­ers. “Now I can not and will not claim that we have got every­thing right, no gov­ern­ment should. But I am proud of what we have achieved togeth­er, the bold actions we have tak­en and I’m con­fi­dent about what we can do in the future. We’ve tack­led infla­tion, con­trolled debt, cut work­ers’ tax­es, and increased the state pen­sion by £900.”

“Tonight the prime min­is­ter has final­ly announced the next gen­er­al elec­tion,” respond­ed Labour Leader Keir Starmer. “A moment the coun­try needs — and has been wait­ing for. And where, by the force of our democ­ra­cy, pow­er returns to you. A chance to change for the bet­ter your future, your com­mu­ni­ty, your country.”

“Now it will feel like a long cam­paign — I’m sure of that. But no mat­ter what else is said and done, that oppor­tu­ni­ty for change is what this elec­tion is about. Over the course of the last four years, we’ve changed the Labour Par­ty. Returned it once more to the ser­vice of work­ing peo­ple. All we ask now — humbly — is to do exact­ly the same for our coun­try, and return Britain to the ser­vice of work­ing people.” 

Unlike the Unit­ed States, the Unit­ed King­dom does not hold gen­er­al elec­tions on a fixed recur­ring basis. Elec­tion sched­ul­ing in par­lia­men­tary democ­ra­cies is often at the dis­cre­tion of the coun­try’s leader, though they can be forced to sched­ule an elec­tion if they lose what’s known as a vote of con­fi­dence. From near­ly a decade, begin­ning in 2011, the UK did have a law called the Fixed-term Par­lia­ments Act, but it was repealed in 2022. This law pre­scribed a fixed date for gen­er­al elec­tions. Though it is no longer in force, the law still does pro­vide that an elec­tion must be held at least every five years. 

At the lat­est, Sunak would have been oblig­at­ed to call an elec­tion to be held no lat­er than Jan­u­ary 28th, 2025, with Par­lia­ment required to dis­solve on Decem­ber 17th, 2024. Pri­or to this week, the expec­ta­tion among many polit­i­cal observers was that the elec­tion would be held some­time in the fall. But Sunak opt­ed for an ear­li­er timeframe. 

Even Tories close to Sunak were surprised.

“I spent more than an hour in con­ver­sa­tion with anoth­er very senior Con­ser­v­a­tive just yes­ter­day where the whole thing was framed around a very long cam­paign that might still be rum­bling when the pump­kins were out and the sparklers were sparkling. But not every­body is in the loop on some­thing like this,” the BBC’s Chris Mason report­ed.

The UK’s last gen­er­al elec­tion was in 2019, in Decem­ber. That was also a snap gen­er­al elec­tion called by Boris John­son, who gam­bled that vot­ers would give him a big, pro-Brex­it major­i­ty and cam­paigned on get­ting the coun­try’s divorce from the Euro­pean Union final­ized. The gam­ble paid off — at least in the short term. After a series of pan­dem­ic-era scan­dals, John­son was forced to resign. His suc­ces­sor Liz Truss then last­ed all of a few weeks before she stepped down. Sunak’s tenure has brought more sta­bil­i­ty, but not more pro­gres­sive poli­cies. Labour is ready to make the case for a change.

As men­tioned, polls indi­cate that Labour has a big lead. Starmer is intent on not blow­ing that lead. He wants a clean break with his pre­de­ces­sor, Jere­my Cor­byn, who lost big to Boris John­son in 2019. To that end, Labour has dumped Cor­byn as a can­di­date. (Cor­byn is now run­ning for reelec­tion as an inde­pen­dent.) Cor­byn’s posi­tions, espe­cial­ly on for­eign pol­i­cy, will not influ­ence British pol­i­cy under a Starmer-held gov­ern­ment, Labour has empha­sized. They are promis­ing con­ti­nu­ity on sup­port for Ukraine, while piv­ot­ing sharply away from Tory aus­ter­i­ty and invest­ing in the coun­try’s future. 

Among Starmer’s promis­es if elect­ed is to work to low­er the vot­ing age to six­teen years. Under the Tories, Britain has made it hard­er to vote. This gen­er­al elec­tion, for exam­ple, will be held with a pho­to ID require­ment, and research pre­sent­ed to the House of Com­mons has esti­mat­ed this could lead to 1.1 mil­lion few­er peo­ple vot­ing. Britain should repeal this dis­crim­i­na­to­ry law in addi­tion to low­er­ing the vot­ing age. 

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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