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No general election in May, London minister Greg Hands says

A top Tory on Tuesday ruled out a May general election and refused to surrender victory to Mayor Sadiq Khan in London.

Greg Hands was speaking a day after a new Ipsos poll for the Evening Standard found the Conservatives on their lowest support since the 1970s, prompting a warning from fellow Conservative Paul Scully that they risked abandoning the centre ground.

“I don’t agree with that. Paul would obviously have his views and everybody's entitled to have their view,” the minister for London and trade policy told Times Radio.

“But I see a Conservative Party united, a government united on delivering against the people's priorities. It’s not been an easy time, with the pandemic, with Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine, the rise in energy prices, the rise in inflation that caused. But we are turning the corner.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was putting the finishing touches to Wednesday’s budget with a limited package of pre-election tax cuts said to be in the offing, insisting that the recession-hit economy is on the mend.

Despite the Conservatives’ dismal poll standings, speculation persists that Rishi Sunak might go to the country sooner than the autumn, in part to exploit Labour divisions over Israel’s war in Gaza. He also hopes to get the first flights of migrants heading to Rwanda in the spring, despite setbacks in a series of Lords votes on Monday night.

But asked if there was any chance of a General Election to coincide with London and local polls on May 2, Mr Hands said: “No.”

And despite another Standard poll showing a 25-point lead for Mr Khan over Conservative candidate Susan Hall, the former Tory chairman insisted the capital remained up for grabs in the London mayoral election.

“I think what you'll find is that Sadiq Khan is an extremely unpopular politician,” Mr Hands insisted.

“You'll have to see what happens on the second of May. But what I'm saying is that it does open up the possibility of a Conservative win in the London mayoralty and that would build us up quite nicely for the General Election later this year, particularly in London.”

On LBC, a sceptical Nick Ferrari told the MP for Chelsea and Fulham: "You are the Sheffield United of politics." The team suffered a 0-6 drubbing at home to Arsenal on Monday night, and are staring at relegation from the Premier League.

Mr Hands replied: “I was at Craven Cottage on Sunday and it reminded me a little bit more there where Fulham played really well to grind out a 3-0 win against Brighton.” (Actually, the match was on Saturday.)

Labour frontbencher Jonathan Ashworth, however, insisted that a May election was still on the cards.

“I think everything the Conservatives are doing in terms of both their advertising on social media and the political positioning suggests to me that May is their preferred choice,” the shadow paymaster general said on Times Radio, stressing that more boatloads of migrants and a worsening economy were likely over the summer.

“I mean, I hope you get Rishi Sunak on Times Radio to put the question to him, because with respect to Greg Hands, he isn't the person who decides this. I'm not remotely undermining Greg Hands in that respect. But I mean it's Rishi Sunak who makes these decisions and I think it's going to be May,” he added.