There is surely only one explanation for Rishi Sunak’s sudden rush to the polls. In stark contrast with the D:Ream anthem that nearly drowned out the Prime Minister’s announcement: things can only get worse.

Regardless of Sunak’s message that the country has turned the corner, and that he can be trusted to finish the job, a prime minister who genuinely believed the country would be noticeably better off in a few months’ time would surely wait until the end of the year to go to the polls. Sunak, by contrast, has got nothing to bank: he is 23 points behind and has calculated that today’s conditions are his best shot at remaining in power.

And, yet, our prisons are now so full that criminals are being released early and police are being asked not to make so many arrests; NHS waiting lists are at a record high; privatised water companies are poisoning people; prices have gone up more in the past two years than the previous 11; and interest rates on people’s mortgages are at their highest levels in 16 years. Oh, and taxes are also at an all-time high. “Very brave, Prime Minister,” you might say.

In one sense, then, we are now about to witness something unique, an experiment in electoral politics: what happens to a government that has made its voters poorer than when it took over? This has never happened before. Real disposable incomes have never fallen over the lifetime of a parliament — until now. So what was he thinking?

The truth is, the PM had no good options left. Over the summer, the small-boat crossings may well resume with an intensity that could overwhelm the Government. The Bank of England expects inflation to start rising again towards the end of the year. And the chances of a June interest rate cut have now been slashed.

By going early, you might argue, the Prime Minister will be able to boast that inflation is back under control. He might also see the first flights loaded with illegal immigrants take off for Rwanda during the campaign — before the inevitable summer rush of boats from the continent. His plan may have been painful, he can argue, but it is working — don’t let Labour ruin it.

“I recognise that it has not always been easy,” Sunak declared outside No. 10 in a speech that was as turgid as it was sodden. “Some of you will only just be starting to feel the benefits and for some it might still be hard when you look at your bank balance. For this hard-earned economic stability was only ever meant to be the beginning. The question now is how and who do you trust to turn that foundation into a secure future for you, your family, and our country?”

This, it seems, is the best he’s got. And as he struggled through his speech, all of his political flaws were on display. The language was ponderous and technocratic, a jumble of sentences without any killer line or theme. Campaign slogans don’t get much weaker than: “I will forever do everything in my power to provide you with the strongest possible protection I can.”

“As he struggled through his speech, all of his political flaws were on display.”

Sunak did recover some form when he got to Starmer. “If he was happy to abandon all the promises he made to become Labour leader once he got the job, how can you know that he won’t do exactly the same thing if he were to become Prime Minister?” Here is the Labour leader’s Achilles’ heel. Very few people think he is dangerous or corrupt or incapable or malign. But quite a few think he is untrustworthy.

And this, I’m told, is where the Conservative Party will initially aim its campaign: it will try to throw the Labour Party off balance. “You’ve got to start making stuff up,” said one experienced campaigner. ”You’ve got to declare that they haven’t ruled out this or that policy that the Labour base wants to see, in order to force Labour to rule it out, upsetting their campaign.” He continued: “It’s not a lot and probably won’t make any difference, but you’ve got to try.”

The great question at the heart of this election, though, is not how much enthusiasm there is for Starmer and the Labour Party — it’s how desperate the country is to see the back of this Conservative government.

If there were a concerted attempt by voters to destroy the Tories — voting tactically or moving en masse towards Labour — I’m told the party could be looking at a reduced rump of 100 seats; a catastrophe worse than 1997. But even if the party were to run an effective campaign, and voters did not move en masse, a best-case scenario would see them hold 220 seats — most probably handing Labour a majority beyond that won by Boris Johnson in 2019. And one insider tells me they are already moving resources from battleground seats to protect those in the Cabinet.

The damp and depressing truth is that by going for an election now, Sunak was hoping to project an image of strength. In reality it is an admission of weakness.

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