LONDON — Rishi Sunak was midway through announcing an election he’s likely to lose in a country that often feels like it’s falling apart.

Then — in an apt metaphor for beleaguered Britain and its ruling Conservative Party — the prime minister was soaked by a deluge in the middle of his speech and drowned out by a nearby protester blasting the song “Things Can Only Get Better.”

Sunak began six weeks of campaigning Thursday after calling the surprise election to be held July 4. He and his party are deeply unpopular with the public, according to every major poll, so unless there is an unprecedented reversal in fortunes, they look set to be handed an electoral wipeout.

The Conservatives are blamed by many for a Britain widely seen as being in decline.

Real wages have stagnated for well over a decade; health care waiting lists and house prices are soaring; sewage is being pumped into the rivers and sea; dysfunction blights everything from the country’s railways to its prisons; and Brexit — once the Conservatives’ cause célèbre — is now widely deemed such a failure that most politicians prefer not to discuss it at all.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday set a general election date for July 4, ending months of speculation about when he would go to the country.
The skies opened as Sunak was delivering his speech outside No. 10 Downing St.Henry Nicholls / AFP – Getty Images

Because of election law, Sunak had to call the vote at some point this year. Even so, his decision to act immediately — while his party languishes a colossal 20 points behind the opposition Labour Party — has deeply angered many of his own lawmakers, now facing a landslide that would put many of them out of work.

Many observers are wondering: why now?

“Rishi Sunak has deployed the only weapon left in his arsenal: the element of surprise,” said Guto Harri, communications director for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in whose administration Sunak served as finance minister before the pair became rivals. “At the very least, he fired the starting pistol on his own terms, and showed that he has the backbone to go for it proactively.”

But even the prime minister’s traditional allies seemed to share a sense that Sunak may also have sounded the final bell on 14 years of Conservative rule.

The conservative Spectator magazine splashed “The Deluge” on its front page, alongside a cartoon of a rain-soaked Sunak and a cover story about his “election gamble.”

The right-wing newspaper The Daily Telegraph went with: “Things Can Only Get Wetter,” a reference to a  1990s British dance classic.

That was the song played by demonstrators at the gates of No. 10 Downing St., which threatened to drown out Sunak’s address. Its choice was multilayered; it was also the soundtrack to Tony Blair’s successful electoral campaign in 1997 — the last time Labour swept the Conservatives from government.

Electoral history is full of shocks, of course, but no party in the history of British politics has reversed anything close to the current polling chasm this close to a vote.

The current landscape is bleak for the Conservatives. But recent slivers of good news may mean this actually is as good as it might get.

Hours earlier, it was announced that inflation had fallen to 2.3% — down from a 40-year high of 11% in late 2022, the worst in the developed world. (Inflation in the United States was 3.4% last month.)

This does not mean prices are falling for the voters Sunak will now traverse the country to court, just that they are rising at a slower rate. 

In this sense, Sunak “chose the moment where the promise of economic news is as good as it gets — without waiting to find out whether the promise materializes or not,” Harri said.


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