BEST BEFORE: In Britain, you can’t control the weather but you can control the elections

by Isabelle Proctor | May 23, 2024

Desperate to be more entertaining than Matt Hancock’s TikTok account, Rishi Sunak was given a helping hand by the press yesterday, as rumours about the general election ran wild. The news was flooded with live feeds of Number 10’s closed door, journalists huddled together for warmth in the pouring rain, all waiting for confirmation of the inevitable. Larry the cat looked bored. He was also probably wondering why the BBC’s Chris Mason was so “excitable.” Yes, we were waiting for Sunak to announce the date of the general election. Yes, we had been waiting for a while. Yes, the PM is required to dissolve Parliament 25 working days before polling day.


At 5pm yesterday evening, Sunak’s bold claims concerning “hard-earned economic stability,” “stopping the boats,” and having “seized the opportunities of Brexit” were upstaged. In a typically British fashion, commentators focused on the weather whilst waiting for Sunak to exit Number 10. The Mirror, the Metro, and the Daily Mail all seem distracted by the return of Tobias Gough, the so-called “hot podium guy”. This adored sound engineer also appeared at the lectern before Theresa May’s and Liz Truss’ final moments in office. Not a good omen for Sunak, who delivered his statement that a general election will be held on 4th July at said lectern, amidst torrential rain and Steve Bray’s musical accompaniment. Bray is an anti-Brexit campaigner who makes such appearances across Westminster. Journalists jumped at the chance to tell us that the song blaring down Downing Street, drowning out Rishi Sunak, was ‘Things Can Only Get Better’; New Labour’s election campaign anthem from ‘97. Sadly, even the comic genius of the independent DJ of this impromptu concert couldn’t get Rishi to bust out a move, Theresa May-style. The downpour proved so distracting that ‘drowning street’ is now circulating on X (formerly Twitter).


In many ways, the May showers and early election shouldn’t come as such a surprise. Things are only going to get worse, and perhaps it makes sense that the PM would want to kick off his campaign on the back of what may be the only positive note of the year: inflation finally dropping to 2.3%. What is shocking is the fact that Rishi Sunak has the right to keep Parliament and the public on their toes as to when the general election will be held. The 4th of July is an interesting choice: Independence Day in the US, just before private schools break up for the summer holidays in the UK, and just after schools in Scotland have broken up for the summer holidays. Very tactical, Rishi, scheduling a general election when potential opposition voters are due to be abroad. University students are also likely to be at home, perhaps returning to the Home Counties and more conservative parents. This is a pattern of behaviour: in a thinly-veiled attempt at gerrymandering, the Elections Act of 2022 ushered in voter ID under the guise of preventing voter fraud. Photo ID became a requirement—notably accepted forms of ID do include the 60+ Oyster card but do not include the Student Oyster card. Rolling out the red carpet for the Tories’ target demographic. According to the Guardian, there are eight million unregistered voters in the UK, the Elections Act seems to be capitalising on this.


The Tory commitment to circumventing democracy is almost as consistent as Steve Bray’s anti-Brexit campaign. We have also seen the Electoral Commission (which regulates UK elections and donations) come under the influence of Parliament. states that the Commission “should work closely with the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, as well as the UK Parliament, to ensure public and democratic accountability”. Coincidentally, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, sits on that very committee. The list goes on: in 2019, Johnson prorogued parliament just before the EU summit, in 2023, Sunak brought Cameron back on board as Foreign Secretary, wiping Cameron’s slate clean of running away after unwittingly bringing about Brexit. And last month Sunak effectively held MPs captive in order to clear the Rwanda Bill.


Deliberation over when the election will be held has been repetitive. There has been a bizarre fixation on whether Sunak would schedule the election for a Thursday. It was apparently a point of great interest that the last general election not to be held on a Thursday, was Tuesday 27th October 1931. Lo and behold, it is on a Thursday this year! Obviously no one told Parliament that Thursday is the new Friday. Concerns about voters being abroad during the summer holidays had also affected projections for Sunak’s decision. But, thanks to the Tories’ overall disinterest in stopping global warming, the UK might be a sunnier alternative to Lanzarote this year.


Suspicions were piqued when it was reported that David Cameron was flying back from Albania, Grant Schapps delayed his departure for Lithuania, and Jeremy Hunt cancelled an appearance on ITV. Sensationalized reporting, verging on erotic, emerged as journalists searched for ways to shock. The Telegraph reported “General election speculation mounts as Cameron cuts short foreign trip”—not a good enough reason to use ‘mount’. Sky News was cheeky: “Sunak stays coy on election timing as speculation mounts”. More mounting. Even Stephen Flynn (the SNP MP who asked Sunak about the election date in PMQs today) was reported by the Guardian saying “Sunak is playing games with the public”. The Times epitomised the absurdity of the moment as “Sunak teasingly responded: ‘Spoiler alert – there is going to be a general election in the second half of the year.’”


The comedy continued after Sunak made his address, critiquing the PM’s decision to seize upon the temporary decrease in inflation, The Times described the announcement as “Going off at half-cock”. The emphasis Henry Zeffman for the BBC put on that “soaking wet lectern” was particularly enjoyable. The Spectator recently asked the groundbreaking question ‘Is Keir Starmer too boring to be prime minister?’ Seeing as the most exciting part of Rishi Sunak’s tenure appears to be the prospect of him leaving, we could apply the same question. The most memorable stories about Sunak have been his catastrophic taste (for Adidas) in footwear and his wife utilising tax loopholes—and now his very wet speech.


Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the edits of Sunak’s sodden suit, as he tried to speak over his unsolicited soundtrack, I can’t help but think that the media went a bit hyper. We all love a bit of excitement, but have you tried watching the last four minutes of Bridgerton Season 3? News feeds seem slightly deflated now the election date is  confirmed and they can no longer accuse Sunak of being coy. Instead, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Tories’ reign of terror may soon be over.∎

Words by Isabelle Proctor. Graphic by Alice Robey-Cave.