THE announcement of one of the earliest spring budget dates in 13 years of the Conservative government has triggered a fresh wave of speculation over an early General Election.

While Rishi Sunak could choose any time now, the final deadline will be December 17, 2024 – marking exactly five years since parliament first met after the General Election of 2019.

If a date has not been set for UK voters to go to the polls by then, parliament would automatically be dissolved and the election would take place on January 28, 2025.

However, Sunak has already dropped major hints that he will call the election during 2024 – and with his party trailing behind Labour in the polls, timing will be everything, as shown by the experience of previous Prime Ministers.

There was speculation Labour’s James Callaghan would call an election in 1978 – but he stunned the nation by delaying voting until the following year. The famous "winter of discontent" which got under way at the end of 1978 subsequently saw Margaret Thatcher sweep to victory. 

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Meanwhile, Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election in 2017 backfired as far from securing a mandate from voters, she lost her party’s parliamentary majority.

Here we look at what the different scenarios could be and the predictions for each one:

Early election

TEN of the last 11 General Elections have taken place in spring or early summer, the Institute of Government notes. A date between April to June 2024 is currently the bookmaker’s second favourite for the next one. 

Local elections – which are frequently held jointly with the UK vote to reduce costs – will take place in England and Wales on May 2, making this one possible date for a spring General Election.

This would avoid the risk of a heavy defeat for the Tories in these polls ramping up pressure on Sunak just ahead of a UK election.

With the Budget taking place on March 6, he could also be hoping that reported planned tax cuts will be a vote-winner. Meanwhile, the cut to National Insurance of two percentage points, announced in the Autumn Statement, will have come into force.

Some Tories have also reportedly been pushing for this date if the Lords blocks his revived legislation on deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, with an eye on turning it into a "Stop the Boats" election.

But it would be a gamble for Sunak with Labour currently way ahead in the polls. Keir Starmer’s party is keen to talk up the prospect, with frontbencher Emily Thornberry describing a May election as “the worst-kept secret in Parliament” after the Budget date was announced.

The National:

Labour could be preparing to accuse him of “bottling it” if he doesn’t go ahead with an early election – bringing to mind the decision by former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown not to go for a snap election in November 2007, widely seen as a disaster which damaged his reputation as a leader.

Autumn election

THIS is currently the bookie’s favourite - a General Election date between October and December 2024. This would give Sunak more time to try to close the gaps in the polls and also would mark his second anniversary as Prime Minister.

It would also give him more time in Downing Street - when the expectation is he will be booted out at the election.

There are two main scenarios for an autumn election, according to the Institute for Government. One is for Sunak to call it on return from summer recess in early September, which would result in a polling day in October.

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But this would mean a decision on whether to cancel party conferences or keep them but run the risk of drawing resources away from campaigning. Sunak could instead call the election during or shortly after the party conferences, meaning a General Election date in November.

There has also been speculation of October 31 being pencilled in as a possible date – but whether the Tories would want to risk the “horror show" headlines is another matter …

Late election

WHILE the General Election could take place as late as January 2025, this is being viewed as unlikely after Sunak himself ruled it out.

In December, it was reported he told a gathering of journalists in Downing Street that the UK will go to the polls next year.

Bookmakers have this option as the second least favourite – with the most unlikely predicted to be going to the polls in the next three months.

The prospects of Sunak hanging on to the bitter end seem unlikely – unless of course, he really can’t bear to face the prospect of moving out of Downing Street.