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UK general election options remain unchanged

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Good morning. Should the autumn statement mean that we change our central forecast for when the next election will be? The short answer is “no”. For the long answer, read on.

Inside Politics is edited today by Leah Quinn. Read the previous edition of the newsletter here. Please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to [email protected]

The date will still be late

All things being equal, governments don’t go to the country any earlier than they have to, unless they expect to win. Gordon Brown in 2010, John Major in 1997 and Alec Douglas-Home in 1964 all held on until the last possible minute.

There are two recent exceptions to this rule: Jim Callaghan’s government was defeated in a confidence vote, which meant Callaghan lost control of the timing of the election in 1979. In 1992, John Major went in April not May, because April 9 1992 was the anniversary of the day he met Norma Major.

I think, given the underlying difficulties facing the government, the central forecast for the next election is that they will leave it very late. However, given that the latest date is in January 2025, and that would be a deeply miserable experience for the political parties involved, we’re probably looking at sometime in October to November 2024.

One aim of the Autumn Statement was to retain the option of calling an election in May, as Katy Balls explains in her column in this week’s Spectator. But it’s important not to over-read the Conservative leadership’s desire to maintain the chances of this date.

Don’t forget that Jeremy Hunt used an awful lot of the wriggle room in his fiscal rules to stimulate the economy — including full expensing, more money for artificial intelligence — rather than spend it all on voter-friendly measures such as the national insurance cut. (An ally of the chancellor makes exactly this point in our team’s look ahead to the next fiscal event.) In any case, the NI cut was also about maintaining Conservative party unity.

Nor should we read all that much into the fact that Isaac Levido, who ran the 2019 general election campaign, will be working for the Conservative party full-time from January. He was always contracted to return then, and if anything, the more interesting thing to watch is that some senior Tories felt he ought to have come back earlier. If the party has some outbreak of self-destruction, one way that might manifest itself is a fruitless and damaging round of “blame the advisers”.

Essentially, the situation remains unchanged: there are many reasons why the government would like to go to the polls in May and at least to have the option of a May election. But the chances of one remain exactly what they were last month.

Now try this

I saw Maestro this weekend. It’s mystifyingly dreadful. Clearly someone involved cared a great deal about Leonard Bernstein’s music, and Bradley Cooper’s impression of Bernstein at the podium is near-perfect, so someone involved in the production had at least a passing interest in Bernstein’s work as a conductor and a composer.

Sadly none of this has made it into the final film. There is essentially nothing in it about Bernstein’s work as a composer, or really any sense of what it was that made him a good conductor, let alone his activism or more exciting gigs. All in all, it’s as if Oppenheimer were made a) without any mention of the Manhattan project and b) by someone who thought the most important things about J Robert Oppenheimer were that he slept around and had once delivered the BBC’s Reith Lecture.

Don’t waste your time on it. Stay home and listen to this 1978 recording of Bernstein conducting his first two symphonies and the Chichester Psalms instead. (The first symphony in particular is marvellous: he was only 23 when he composed it!)

Top stories today

  • Labour “a risk” to rail business | The head of the UK’s largest rail operator FirstGroup has warned that the prospect of a Labour government poses a “risk” to the company because of its commitment to renationalise the railways.

  • “Thin cats” | The Westminster standards chief has said that many MPs with second jobs are “very thin cats” rather than “fat cats”, arguing that a codified set of principles on outside interests would help combat misconceptions about parliamentarians.

  • Lords call for Bank of England reform | The Lords economic affairs committee said BoE policymakers were too reluctant to challenge conventional wisdom and overly reliant on “inadequate” forecasting models when inflation was brewing in 2020 and 2021.

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