Rishi Sunak's summer election gamble: why is he going for July 4?

The last time the country went to the polls in July was in 1945, and that didn’t end well for the Conservatives.

Why is Rishi Sunak going for another general election in the dog days of summer?

It’s a bold bet when the Tories are so far behind in the polls - and when much of the country will be fixated on the Euro 2024 football championships.

Inflation is nearly back to the Bank of England’s 2% target, enabling the PM to declare that this “hard earned economic stability” would be endangered by Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour.

But surveys consistently show that for most Britons, including Londoners, the cost of living crisis remains all too real. There will not now be time for another tax giveaway.

And Mr Sunak hasn’t delivered on his pledge to “stop the boats”. On Thursday, he vowed that Rwanda-bound deportation flights would still take off, but only at some point in July, and not before the election.

Given the backdrop, many Tory MPs were stunned that he was going earlier than the autumn, while Labour ones could not hide their glee around the corridors of Westminster.

The PM’s rain-soaked statement was almost drowned out by protestors on Whitehall belting out Labour's 1997 campaign song, "Things Can Only Get Better." A Lib Dem source quipped: "Things can only get wetter."

There’s the rub for Tory strategists: What if things can only get worse from here? What if the latest inflation numbers, and the UK economy’s emergence from a shallow recession, is as good as it gets between now and the autumn?

New legal challenges or logistical problems could gum up the Rwanda plan anew. The boats might still keep coming across the Channel, even after any flights.

So going earlier could limit further damage from the Right, by forestalling mobilisation and fundraising by Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party.

Mr Farage duly said on Thursday that he would not be standing himself. But much of the Tories’ day one messaging was a warning to supporters against letting Labour in through the back door by voting for Reform.

It could also leverage divisions on the Left over the war in Gaza, with George Galloway vowing to field candidates against Labour for his Workers Party of Britain.

The Conservatives are not short of divisions in their own ranks. Waiting for the autumn would have risked turning the party’s annual conference, starting on September 29, into a factional free-for-all ahead of the election.

There’s a case for damage limitation by going sooner, to try to protect a functioning parliamentary party and the careers of leading Tory centrists with an eye to the future.

After Labour’s landslide win at the end of World War II, Clement Atlee’s government set about creating the modern welfare state - NHS and all. But rationing remained and the national mood was still sombre when voters returned Winston Churchill to No10 in 1951.

This time, again, the Government is not exactly flush with cash. Under Sir Keir and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, Labour has been busy setting expectations as low as possible.

So the Conservatives could be playing a long game, hopeful of a comeback once voters tire of any Labour failure to deliver the change they expect.

Or does Mr Sunak really think he has a chance of a shock victory, like John Major in 1992?

The Tories insist that Labour have still failed to seal the deal with voters, and the polls do show many voters are unconvinced by Sir Keir, much like they remained to be convinced by Neil Kinnock back then.

The trouble is, Labour were never so far ahead in the polls then as they are now - an average of 20 points today. We’ll know whether the PM’s against-the-odds bet has paid off in six weeks, on US Independence Day.