As UK’s ruling Conservatives mull general election date, decency breaks out on Tory benches

UK Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (L) and fellow party members such as Jack Lopresti (R) are mulling when to call a general election. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)


There is an aspect over the decision about the timing of the UK general election that has been overlooked and it is a very human angle. It speaks to decency rather than venality – no, hear me out on this; it is a story of decency.

There’s a sort of dull frenzy in Whitehall. Imagine Disneyland but a greyscale version; the whole Westminster debate about when the election in the UK will take place. Hardly has so much ink been spilled for so little purpose as over the interminable discussions about whether the vote will take place in May, November, June or, perish the thought, in January next year.

On March 14, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ruled out one popular option, May 2. He did so, rather oddly given he spends so much time taking his little “lectern of serious gravity” into Downing Street, in an interview with a small regional-TV news broadcast.

Of course, his ruling it out has as much impact on the debate as pretty much everything he says about anything.

“Never, the cynics tell us, “believe anything until it has been officially denied.” But, in this case, they are not correct.

One aspect of the final decision has not been noticed and, in the current state of British politics, it must be considered. That is the natural human decency of the average Conservative backbencher. Yes, you read that right.

When we hear Conservative politicians talk about the forthcoming general election we have to forgive their public delusion. The more senior they are the more officially deluded they have to be. It is part of the game.

They know they cannot lead their battered and morale-free troops into battle without the leadership, at least in public, stating they believe the battle can be won.

Suggestions this or that action, this or that turn of events, might change things must be seen as part of the political pantomime. It is like young subalterns in Flanders sitting in the forward trenches, waiting for the whistle that will send them and their men over the top into a hail of bullets. Before giving that final pep-talk, they would retire to their bunkers and apply rouge to their cheeks, to give the men the impression that they were not ashen faced with fear.

But the proof of the pudding is not in public words but in their private actions. So far, 62 Conservative MPs have announced they will not be standing at the next election and the number is expected to rise to over 100.

They know what is going to happen and they have no wish to go down fighting. They also, of course, plan to give themselves the time to look for future employment.

The 62, like the rest still though, have some influence on when that election day is set. They, together with the other 200 likely on the current outlook to lose their seats (the worst recent projections leave the Government with fewer than 30 seats post-election), will be pushing for the latest practical date.

The simple fact is, as anybody who has ever employed anyone knows, the worst single part of being an employer is the moment when you have to sack a worker, or worse, make them redundant. The smaller the business the more difficult that moment is.

With their parliamentary and constituency staff, each MP is, in these terms, the proprietor of a small business. Their employees, as in many small businesses, are as close to them as their family and in many cases closer (of course, in the past many were actually their family).

Today few employ family members but the level of trust and the insistent vocational aspect of a political career bring these teams together in strong ties of professionalism and friendship.

Each one of these employees has their own lives, mortgages and rents to pay and families to support. And employers feel that intensely.

Given the Conservatives are almost certainly going to be wiped out if they call the election in any month between now and Armageddon, it doesn’t really matter when they go.

The country wants it and they know their time is up. So, it is at these times other questions come to mind. These questions are normal, human questions and will have an impact.

If the Tories decide on for June (though possibly politically wise – given the horrors coming up on the political horizon of more immigration and worse economic and trade figures – that would be  unlikely) then they are turning to their staff and saying they are pushing for them to lose their jobs sooner rather than later.

Last year, the parliamentary body that regulates MPs’ wages, IPSA, doubled the redundancy period for them from two to four months, raising the “winding down” payments from £8,600 to £17,300.

Now, IPSA has given departing MPs (and this includes those who are standing down at the end of the term as much as it does those who lose their seats) a 5.5 per cent pay rise starting in April, raising that sum to £18,250.

Their staff also remain paid for that four months. The difference between going in May or in January is a full year’s salary. Not something to be sneezed at but also not something to withhold from your staff if you can avoid it.

Politics aside, it would take a pretty hard-hearted man or woman to strip friends of a year’s wages – particularly when the political result will be the same whatever you do.