Sunak Says Next UK Election May Be Closer Than Polls Suggest

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak said the next UK election may be closer than polls suggest now, raising the prospect of a hung Parliament where no party has overall control.

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The prime minister’s remarks follow defeats for the ruling Conservative Party in local and mayoral elections last week and aim to undermine the confidence of the Labour opposition in taking office for the first time since 2010.

“Whilst of course this was a disappointing weekend for us, the result of the next general election isn’t a foregone conclusion,” Sunak told broadcasters Monday at an event in north London. “The situation is closer than many people are saying or indeed some of the opinion polls are predicting.”

Labour could be the largest party in Parliament, but 35 seats short of the threshold to rule alone, according to a Sky News analysis of the local election results. That would be similar to the situation when the Conservatives took over in a coalition with Liberal Democrats after the defeat of Labour’s Gordon Brown 14 years ago.

Sunak’s remarks were his fullest reaction yet to the drubbing in local elections, where Labour candidates for mayor pushed the Conservative out of office in the West Midlands and won a third term in London. Tories also lost at least 473 local councilors, while Labour picked up 185.

Sunak must call a vote by early 2025 but is widely expected to favor a poll in the autumn. Waiting may give the economy time to pick up steam after last year’s recession, giving voters what Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has called a “feel-good factor” if they vote later in the year.

Official data due out later this week is likely to show gross domestic product expanded in the first quarter, confirming the recession has finished. While the Bank of England on Thursday is set to leave interest rates at a 16-year high, policymakers led by Governor Andrew Bailey are likely to talk about the prospect of cuts in the coming months that could ease the strain on household finances.

There’s conflicting interpretations about how results for local offices might play out at the national level. While Sky predicts a hung Parliament, most forecasters expect Labour to win resoundingly.

Chris Hopkins, research director for polling firm Savanta, said the results put Labour on track for a resounding victory. “The disdain the country has towards the Conservatives outweighs any doubts there is over Labour,” he said.

The local elections had long been seen as a potential crisis point for Sunak, who has spent months trying to put down plots to oust him by members of his own party, who are worried about a consistent 20-point poll gap with Labour. The results largely confirmed the party’s worst fears, although key Conservative plotters acknowledged on Friday that there was little appetite to change leaders for the third time in a single Parliament.

Sunak said he’s “absolutely determined to fight incredibly hard” in the weeks leading up to the general election.

--With assistance from Ailbhe Rea and Andrew Atkinson.

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