Rishi Sunak’s election hopes could be boosted by waiting until after US, say allies

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Rishi Sunak’s hopes of winning the next UK general election could be boosted if he waits until after a potentially chaotic US presidential election on November 5, according to his allies.

Advisers to the British prime minister said they believed he might benefit from being seen as a tried and tested leader, if the US election and the possible victory of Donald Trump created political instability.

“There might be something to be gained from being seen as a safe pair of hands, if the US elections result in global instability,” said one Conservative party official close to Sunak.

Communities secretary Michael Gove said this week he thought Sunak would hold the British election on November 14 or November 21, within days of the outcome of the US presidential poll.

A Trump victory would provoke uncertainty in the west, including over the US’s commitment to the Nato military alliance and defending Ukraine. If Trump refused to accept a defeat to Joe Biden, there could also be turmoil.

Recent opinion polls suggest the former and incumbent presidents are neck and neck, and stock traders have already begun placing bets on an upsurge of volatility around November.

Sunak’s election campaign is based around his claim that his economic plan is working and that voters should stick with him, rather than risk switching to an untested Labour government led by Sir Keir Starmer.

At present, the Financial Times’ general election poll tracker gives Labour — the main opposition party — a 20-point lead over Sunak’s Tories.

The idea of Sunak being a tested incumbent in the face of strains on the western alliance could also feed into the final days of an election campaign, if the British poll was held in mid-November, according to Tory strategists.

Asked what date an election would be held, Gove this week told the Political Currency podcast, hosted by former Labour and Tory ministers Ed Balls and George Osborne: “I think November 14 or 21.” He added: “I have no inside knowledge at all.”

Osborne also believes Sunak will opt for a November election, allowing him to use the Conservative party conference between September 29 and October 2 as a campaign launch pad. A tax-cutting “mini-Budget” would also be expected before or immediately after conference.

Sunak has said he expects to call an election in the second half of the year, even if some Tories fear he might be forced to bring that forward if heavy defeats in local elections on May 2 lead to more party infighting.

His decision to issue an unusual honours list at Easter, including awarding a knighthood to Egyptian-born tycoon Mohamed Mansour who recently gave £5mn to the Tories, also heightened speculation of a summer election.

But such a poll would be an indication of serious turbulence in Sunak’s party. His preference is to wait until the autumn, by which point he expects inflation to be below the 2 per cent target and interest rates to be falling.

There would be dangers for Sunak in waiting until after November 5, not least with some prominent Tories expected to welcome a Trump victory and echo his campaign themes. Former premier Liz Truss has already backed him.

The last time US and UK elections took place within a few weeks of each other was in 1964, at the height of the cold war and after the assassination of John F Kennedy.

Ben Ansell, professor of politics at Oxford university, wrote in the Financial Times last year that the juxtaposition of the two polls would throw up some major challenges.

“If the elections do coincide, then we will have to face the real risks of simultaneous volatility, misinformation and polarisation,” he said. “Our intelligence agencies need to prepare for widespread cyber manipulation at a time of heightened insecurity.”

A spokesperson for Sunak said the prime minister was determined to carry on delivering his economic plan, adding: “His working assumption is for an election in the second half of the year.”

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