UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has hinted that he will call a general election in 2024, earlier than the latest deadline of January 2025. He has not specified exactly when the vote will be, which has led to increasingly fevered speculation among political observers.
CGTN spoke to Tim Bale, Professor of Politics at London's Queen Mary University, to explore what lies ahead and how will the ruling Conservative party fare at the next vote.
"If you're a Conservative MP, you may hope that something will turn up between now and the probable date of the election…. I think when you're 20 points behind in the opinion polls, that looks rather [like] a gamble," said Bale.
He went on to explain that when in the past the Conservative party lost elections "very badly," like it did in 1997, it "doubled down on the approach it took initially in opposition. And that normally means moving towards the authoritarian right of the political spectrum."
The expert highlighted that "it then takes a couple of elections before they really wake up and smell the coffee, and realize that they have to move back to the center in order to win back those voters who have deserted them."
He argued that if the past is any guide to the present or indeed the future, then he would expect the Conservative party – depending on the scale of the loss – to be out of power for at least a couple of terms.
"What we tend to see is the Conservative party double down on the approach it initially takes in opposition," he explained, "and that normally means moving toward the authoritarian right of the political spectrum. It then takes a couple of elections before they really wake up and smell the coffee, and realize they have to move back into the center to win back the voters who have deserted them."
He acknowledged that PM Sunak has had to navigate some key issues, in part because "the policies that he has pursued have satisfied neither side of his political party."
How crucial will it be to get the immigration policy right?
Bale used the government's immigration policy, particularly its plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, to illustrate the struggle the PM has had in adopting a stance that has been popular with the majority of the party.
"On the one hand, it strikes many on the so-called soft center of the Conservative party as too harsh and possibly in conflict with international law," said the professor. "On the other hand, for the hard right of the party, it doesn't go far enough in taking radical action to do something which they believe has to be done in order to win the party a general election."
He went on to say that the issue of immigration has risen in importance over the last year or so "because the government has spent a lot of time talking about it, as has the media.
"But if you look more closely at the polling, it's nowhere near as important to most people as the economy, the cost of living and inflation on the one hand, and the state of the National Health Service and other public services on the other," he added.
"So it does remain somewhat of a mystery why Conservative MPs see immigration as some sort of magic bullet. Voters have rather more pressing concerns at the moment," said Bale.