General Election: John Rentoul answers your questions — from polls and predictions to letters of no confidence

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at Inverness airport on the general election campaign trail (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at Inverness airport on the general election campaign trail (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

The biggest question in UK politics was answered on Wednesday when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a general election will take place on 4 July.

With just six weeks to go before voters take to the polls, the Conservative Party leader’s choice of date has sparked a flurry of further questions from Independent readers.

Mr Sunak, outside the door of 10 Downing Street in the pouring rain, said: “Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future.” This came despite earlier indications that an election would be held in the autumn.

Naturally, many have been wondering why the prime minister chose this moment to fire the starting gun for the race to Number 10. While others simply wanted to know where his umbrella was...

Here are nine questions from Independent readers – and my answers from the “Ask Me Anything” event.

Q: What is the biggest opinion poll lead prior to a general election that was subsequently overturned come election day?

Mick O’Hare

A: The obvious answer is 2017, but then it was the government that was 20 points ahead of the opposition. That was overturned on polling day with the Tories narrowly deprived of a majority. I think the only time the opposition was ahead in the opinion polls at the start of the campaign and then lost was in 1992, but Labour was only 1 or 2 points ahead, before losing by 8 points.

Q: Why doesn’t he own a brolly?

Charlie Beckett

A: Rishi Sunak partly answered that in interviews this morning, saying he was determined to do the traditional Downing Street thing, which didn’t answer the question about the umbrella. If he starts to make a comeback, though, I could see the image of him, patriotically delivering his speech in the rain, being part of the fighting-spirit, John-Major’s-soapbox story.

Q: When will the next but one General Election be?


A: That is a clever way of asking how successful a Labour government will be, if elected. It is commonly said, including by me, that a Labour government would become unpopular quite quickly. But it is also said, including by me, that the Conservative Party is likely either to go on another holiday from reality, or to descend into civil war, or both.

In which case we may get an interesting situation in the spring of 2028. The traditional pattern for majority governments before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (repealed in 2022), was for a PM who was ahead in the opinion polls to hold an election after four years – usually in May, at the same time as the local elections.

Q: Why ‘snap’? Six weeks notice seems about standard, and four-and-a-half years into the parliament?

Dean Bullen

A: It was “snap” in the sense that it was earlier than expected, but you are right that six weeks is standard: the statutory five weeks plus one week to allow parliamentary business to be wrapped up, as it will be today and tomorrow. Theresa May had a seven-week campaign in 2017 because she needed to allow extra time to get round the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

Q: Has there been a more hilariously ominous election announcement?

Peter Metcalfe

A: Looking back, there was Theresa May’s announcement in 2017. It didn’t rain, and Steve Bray hadn’t got his loudspeakers in place, but her argument that she needed a mandate to negotiate Brexit in the teeth of opposition from Labour peers convinced no one, even if there was an element of truth in it. It was ominous in the sense that it contributed to a feeling that she shouldn’t be handed too much power by the voters – a feeling that grew stronger during the campaign.

Q: It is suggested that Sunak has gone early because going late offered no benefit: things are going to get worse. But given that he asked us to judge him by his delivery of five key priorities, and he has failed on three, are voters supposed to just ignore his own yardstick?

Adrian Hilton

A: I think this is a real weakness in the PM’s position: he hasn’t got a good reason that he can express in public for holding the election five months before he needed to. All the reasons that have been canvassed by journalists are questions of tactics that boil down to “things are likely to get worse”.

Maybe most voters won’t care – they wanted the election now anyway – but it adds to the impression of weakness. As does, of course, naming five “key priorities” for 2023 and still not fulfilling three of the five targets 17 months later (debt falling, cut NHS waiting lists and stop the boats).

Q: In what will likely be a general election of “Portillo” moments, who could be the biggest shock (to lose, rather than defy the odds)?


A: I think Jeremy Hunt would be the biggest scalp, vulnerable to the Lib Dems in his new Godalming and Ash constituency. I don’t know if a serving chancellor has lost their seat in modern times.

Q: How many letters of no confidence from his own MPs were in at the time? His own MPs don’t want him – is that why he called a snap election?


A: Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, who is the only person who knows, won’t say, but I am told that he said yesterday it was “not as many as most people think”. I think most Conservative MPs thought Rishi Sunak was the best leader, and all the talk of getting rid of him was coming from a very small minority – nowhere near the 52 needed to trigger a vote of confidence in Sunak’s leadership.

The plotting to oust him was not one of the reasons for going for an election five months earlier than he needed to, although the prospect of continuing damage from discontent and defections may have been a factor.

Q: Who’s gonna win then?


A: That is up to the British people, but my prediction is a Labour majority of 50.

These questions and answers were part of an ‘Ask Me Anything’ hosted by John Rentoul at 12pm BST on Thursday 23 May. Some of the questions and answers have been edited for this article. You can read the full discussion in the comments section of the original article.

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