Why the summer election rumour mill is running hot

22 May 2024, 12:59 | Updated: 22 May 2024, 14:09

Stephen Flynn, the SNP's Westminster leader, took his opportunity at PMQs to ask the question which seems to be on everyone's lips in Westminster - is an election about to be called?

Mr Flynn used the first of his two questions to Rishi Sunak to say: "Mr Speaker, speculation is rife, so I think the public deserve a clear answer to a simple question.

Does the prime minister intend to call a summer general election or is he feart?"

That's slang for afraid, and a riff on Margaret Thatcher's jibe - to Labour's Denis Healey in the early 1980s - that he was "frit" - frightened - of a general election.

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Mr Sunak repeated there would be an election in the second half of this year - but did not take the opportunity to rule out a July election which would (just about) be in the second half.

Downing Street has not dampened down speculation since last night that the announcement of an election is imminent, and senior Conservatives have not ruled it out.

That doesn't mean it will happen - Number 10 is not in the business of commenting on every bit of speculation.

But the rumour mill is running hot that with inflation now down to 2.3%, Mr Sunak claiming the economy has "turned a corner", and little movement in the opinion polls, he has little to lose but to go sooner rather than later.

Plenty in his party have arguments to go sooner; or play it long.

He does not have to hold one until the end of January 2025.

Frenzies of election speculation have happened before, for example when a lectern appeared one rainy night in Downing Street on 2 March - which turned out to be for the prime minister to give a speech on extremism.

It could be another bit of election preparation - a ministerial reshuffle to make sure he has the top team he wants around him when the time does come.

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The cabinet is meeting at 4pm this afternoon, ostensibly because its regular Tuesday morning meeting was postponed due to the PM's trip to Austria yesterday.

Interestingly, Lord Cameron has returned early from a trip to Albania to attend, while Defence Seceretary Grant Shapps has delayed a visit to Lithuania.

After that, all eyes will be on whether the prime minister - who makes the decision on when to call an election alone - tells us more.