Rishi Sunak’s new Tory chairman hints at date for next general election

Rishi Sunak’s new Conservative chairman appeared to hint at the date for the UK’s next general election in a message to party supporters.

Greg Hands said he was “up for” the fight against Labour after being named as Nadhim Zahawi’s replacement in the key role at CCHQ.

In an email to Tory supporters, Mr Hands said “the next 18 months will see us win or lose the next general election” – a hint that Mr Sunak could go to the country in September 2024.

Asked about the possible date on Wednesday, the new cabinet minister said he “can’t see circumstances where an election would be this year” and said the “strong expectation would be 2024”.

He said the prospect of a vote in January 2025 poll – the latest it can be held – would “not be very festive” since the parties would have to campaign over Christmas.

Mr Hands warned the party faced a “difficult” set of local polls in May, but said he was focused on building a platform for a general election next year.

The Tory chair also defended the appointment of outspoken MP Lee Anderson as the deputy party chairman, saying he was a “fantastic asset” and was someone with “great integrity”.

The appointment of Mr Anderson, the controversial red-wall MP with a tendency to make comments which spark outrage – is seen as an attempt to balance giving the party chairmanship to a London MP in Mr Hands.

Mr Anderson has been dubbed “30p Lee” for claiming that meals could be prepared for that sum and suggesting people using food banks could not budget or cook properly.

In 2021, when the men’s Euro 2020 football tournament was taking place, he vowed to boycott England matches in protest against the players’ anti-racism stance of taking the knee before matches.

One former Tory minister told The Independent Mr Anderson would be a “walking embarrassment” in the job. Another Tory told Sky News that the red-waller is “everything that is wrong with the Conservative brand”.

It emerged that Mr Anderson wrote an article in 2016 – when he was still a Labour councillor – calling the Tories “ghastly” and stating: “They don’t truly understand working people and they never will.”

Mr Hands declined to say whether he backed some of Mr Anderson’s past comments, but told LBC he had not “studied every single pronouncement made by Conservative backbenchers”.

The Tory chairman told Times Radio: “Fantastic background, former coal miner and actually until, not that long ago, a member of the Labour Party and so he’s somebody I think who bring something different to the party and I think he and I will work very well together.”