October election? This was no slip of the tongue from Hunt

UK

What was Jeremy Hunt up to?

Was he aiming to snatch the headlines from his Labour rival Rachel Reeves on the evening of her weighty and well-trailed lecture on the economy?

Almost certainly.

Was he also aiming to tease Labour MPs about an October election when he and the prime minister are really planning for November?

Quite possibly.

Was he trying to calm Tory MPs’ jitters worried about a June or July election after Rishi Sunak ruled out 2 May?

No doubt.

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And was he hoping to reassure his backbenchers that he and the PM have a credible economic strategy – “sticking to the plan” – including falling inflation and lower interest rates?

Of course.

Politics live: Chancellor appears to let slip when election might be

Mr Hunt’s tantalising “if the general election is in October” aside to the House of Lords’ economic affairs committee was surely no accident. No way was it a slip of the tongue.

The 14 peers who sit on their lordships’ equivalent of the Treasury select committee in the Commons include some wise and experienced old timers: an ex-chancellor and two former Treasury mandarins.

OK, so Norman Lamont’s record as John Major’s chancellor from 1990 to 1993 was hardly an unmitigated triumph. Remember Black Wednesday?

But Terry Burns was a distinguished chief economic adviser and permanent secretary at the Treasury in the Thatcher, Major and early Blair and Brown period.

And Andrew Turnbull, the mandarin’s mandarin, was also Treasury permanent secretary under Mr Brown and then Sir Tony’s cabinet secretary.

So Mr Hunt knew exactly what he was doing.

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Hunt hints at October election

Apart from the soap opera of Tory plots against the PM, the date of the general election is all MPs are talking about and parliament’s constant guessing game at present.

On 7 March, the day after his Budget that dismayed Tory backbenchers, the chancellor told Kay Burley on Sky News the “working assumption” was that the election would be in the autumn.

That was after the PM said his “working assumption” was that it would take place in the second half of the year.

Now, the PM and the chancellor appear to be narrowing it down.

But if it is to be October, when exactly?


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Mr Hunt told their lordships an election in October would make it “very, very tight” to fit in a spending review.

That, along with the expectation that he’ll deliver a tax-cutting pre-election Budget in September – fulfilling Mr Sunak’s pledge to cut the basic rate of income tax from 20p to 19p before the election – suggests the second half of the month.

Forget Thursday 31 October. What prime minister is going to risk “nightmare on Halloween” headlines? Not even the accident-prone Mr Sunak, surely?

We can also rule out the previous Thursday, 24 October, which clashes with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa, requiring the presence of both King Charles and whoever is PM then.

Which leaves, realistically, 10 or 17 October. And the current betting at Westminster is that if it is October, then the 17th is favourite.

Mr Hunt has presumably known that for some time. Even if his prime motive at the Lords committee was indeed to snatch the evening headlines from Ms Reeves.

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