MAY 22, 2024

By Harry Mottram: For some time, I’ve had a theory that Rishi Sunak would go for a summer General Election as people generally feel good about themselves if the sun is shining and holidays are just around the corner. So Thursday, July 4th, is an opportune date – and incidentally is also American Independence Day and as a former holder of a Green Card in the USA and the owner of a home in California the date reminds voters of the Prime Minister’s American links.

On Wednesday, 22nd May, 2024, the Prime Minister increased speculation he was about to call the election after it was reported that there would be a Cabinet meeting at 4pm while ministers cleared their diaries and even the Foreign Secretary David Cameron ensured he was back in England. At Prime Minister’s Question Time the leader of the Scottish Nationalists Stephen Flynn asked: “Does the prime minister intend to call a summer general election or is he feart (scared)?” The PM brushed off the question with a smile but by then speculation was rife that the answer would be yes – and no. No PM will admit to the expectation they fear they will lose an election.

Why now? Well, a July General Election is likely to be in the middle of warm (we hope) summer weather, hopefully England and Scotland will be doing well in the Euros and Wimbledon will be on TV and the Pimms will be flowing. Most Governments have a surge of support in an election campaign – even when they are behind in the polls and this is the calculation the PM has made with inflation down today. In short he thinks the political weather isn’t going to change this autumn when the received wisdom was November was the best time to go to the country.

Standing at a rain splashed lectern outside 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister said he had see the King earlier in the day and had asked him to dissolve parliament for an election on July 4th. He rubbished Kier Starmer and the Labour Party as having no plan for the country and said he would fight for every vote to be returned to power. He began by reminding voters of his policies during Covid that had saved the economy and how he had now helped the UK economy to grow quickly. With the war in Ukraine, terrorism in the Middle East, China’s expanding economy and small boats bringing hundreds of immigrants to the UK he said the country was safer with him rather than Starmer.

Cynics might point out that the opinion polls haven’t shifted in months and Labour looks a shoe in to win an election so he might as well bite the bullet and get the pain over with now. After all the economy isn’t in great shape and Labour will have to pick up the pieces and could soon be unpopular as they try to turn things around. Other cynics may also say that American-phile Rishi Sunak has chosen July 4th as the day he moves back across the pond and leave rain soaked Britain behind for the sunshine of California.

In Bath the General Election will pitch the Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse against the pretenders to her current status as Member of Parliament for the city. She will be hoping that the nation’s favourable disposition to her political party will see her prevail and she has the knowledge that at the last local elections the Liberal Democrats won a majority seeing off the Conservatives who faced a near wipe out. She was up against Matt Heappey for the Conservatives and brother of the former Armed Forces Minister James Heappey who is standing down as the MP for Wells in Somerset but he has been replaced by James Wright. He has been backed by Mark Shelford the defeated Tory Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner who fell victim to the swing to Labour in that contest which saw Clare Moody succeed with the Lib Dems in 4th place behind the Green Party’s Katy Grant. However, that vote included Bristol so it’s hard to gauge whether that vote is a pointer to Bath. It probably points to Dan Norris for Labour possibly defeating Jacob Rees Mogg in North East Somerset – but that is a very different constituency from Bath now that it includes Hanham and parts of South Gloucestershire.

James Wright will have an uphill battle to wrestle the seat back for the blues – but those voters with long memories will recall Bath was for decades a Tory stronghold with the likes of Chris Patten and Edward Brown and in recent years Ben Howlett who held the seat for two years after 2015. James Wright said: “The Lib Dem council and Lib Dem MP have failed to deliver for the people of Bath. From imposing the broken and deeply unpopular ‘Ring of Steel’ and low-traffic neighbourhoods that increase congestion, to now charging local people to park based on the emissions of their cars. This just demonstrates the utter contempt the Lib Dems have for local people and those business that need their vehicles to operate.

“As a business owner, I know the challenges and opportunities of running a business in Bath. I will use this experience to support all local residents and businesses, and work hard to make our beautiful part of the West Country an even better place to live and work.”

One issue to be resolved is whether the Green Party will step aside for the Lib Dems, and if the Reform Party who have been taking Tory votes will stand. Dom Tristram for the Greens will be keen to challenge the Lib Dem MP after seeing the Green Party do so well in Bath’s local elections.

Finally, Labour whose candidate Mike Davies came third in 2019 will be looking to increase their share of the vote – which may or may not affect the fortunes of Wera Hobhouse. She said after the PM announced the General Election: “At this election, there is a clear choice: the Liberal Democrats who are fighting for our local area or the out-of-touch Conservatives who have taken us for granted. Labour are out of the race here and just can’t win this time.”

“Everything I’ve done since I became your MP has been about fighting for local people and standing by your side on the issues that matter to our community. I am proud to be your local voice making a national impact. I’m determined to continue working hard for Bath and being the strong voice we need in Parliament. It’s clear this Conservative Government has failed Bath. After years of struggling to get a GP appointment, soaring rents and mortgages and our rivers being polluted by filthy sewage, it’s time for this Government to be kicked out of office.”

Bath Labour Party Chair Olivia Copley said: “The Labour Party has grown massively here in recent years and we now have around 1,000 members in Bath. We know from the literally thousands of conversations we have on the doorstep with residents across the city that people are increasingly frustrated by the current crop of politicians nationally and locally, and they’re turning to us as an alternative. It’s really encouraging to have hard data to back that up.”

In 2019 the result was: Wera Hobhouse (Lib Dems) had 28,419; Annabel Tall (Conservatives0 16,097; Mike Davies (Labour) 6,639; Jimi Ogunnusi (Brexit Party) 642; Bill Blockhead (Independent) 341. A Lib Dem majority of 12,322.

Bath Voice Monthly Newspaper is distributed free to thousands of homes and some supermarkets – distributed from the first of the month. Harry Mottram is the News Editor

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Harry Mottram is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Telegram, TikTok and Mobile: 07789 864769