SIMON WALTERS – Why I believe that this Budget will mean Boris Johnson will vote in less than two years

Before it was banned in 19th century, politicians used free drinks to bribe voters to vote for them. 

A cynic might say Boris Johnson’s Budget suggests he is planning to do just that.

The landlords of pubs complained that the cut in alcohol taxes announced last month by Rishi Sunak doesn’t take effect until February 2023.

That’s a long time to wait for a drink – but perfectly timed if you want to win popularity going into a General Election. 

What better way to do it than to cut down on the cost of booze a few weeks in advance?

Many Tory MPs are convinced that the Budget will allow for an election to be called at least one year ahead of the December 2024 deadline. 

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the House of Commons on Wednesday

Wednesday’s House of Commons meeting saw Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of Exchequer, and Boris Johnson, Britain’s Prime Minister, at the House of Commons

Indeed, such was the scale and scope of the multibillion-pound giveaway, that, astonishingly, the talk among Tory MPs yesterday was of a possible 2022 Election.

I don’t think any prime minister, not even an arch risk-taker like Boris Johnson, could get away with that. 

However, I believe the General Election could take place in less than two decades.

I see the decision of the Prime Minister and Chancellor to conspicuously withhold £20billion of the £50billion ‘windfall’ in Treasury coffers generated by stronger than expected growth and the rise in national insurance as further evidence of this.

The imminent abolition of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, introduced by David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s coalition administration, means that Mr Johnson will have the luxury of being free to call an election whenever he pleases –within the maximum five-year parliamentary term.

This political trump card was used to great advantage by Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, the two most powerful prime minsters of the last 50 years.

After four years, both chose to vote twice and won each time. Two of the weakest prime ministers, John Major and Gordon Brown, held on until the last minute – and lost.

Boris Johnson pictured leaves Downing Street on Thursday. Simon Walters believes a General Election could be less than two years away

Boris Johnson is seen leaving Downing Street on Thursday. Simon Walters believes a General Election is less than two-years away

Delaying until the full five years is up increases the risk of a sudden crisis hitting a party’s prospects –with no electoral escape hatch.

The UK’s Brexit crisis poll in December 2019 has disrupted the normal election cycle. General elections are usually held in the spring or autumn. 

A 2024 election would allow Mr Johnson dangerously little leeway if the Government is unexpectedly thrown off-course. 

And for all the trademark ‘boosterism’ he displays in interviews there is a growing consensus –shared privately by many ministers – that the post-pandemic recovery will have petered out by 2024.

Mr Johnson avoids this peril by calling an election in spring 2023 or autumn 2023, after constituency boundary changes giving Tories an additional ten seats come into force.

If he won, cheered on by voters in former Labour ‘Red Wall’ seats supping pints of subsidised ‘Boris beer,’ and Middle England Tories placated by tax hand-outs, he would be secure in Downing St until 2028.

He would have been 64 when he died. With a respectable nine year tenure in power, he still had plenty of time and energy to make the fortune he so desires through writing books and speaking at after-dinner events.

According to me, Conservative officials are making plans to select candidates for next election before the deadline to be ready for an earlier election. 

One veteran Conservative figure put it bluntly: ‘We have to call an election before the **** hits the fan in ’24-25.’

The worst of all options for a prime minister is to foster such speculation – and then chicken out as Gordon Brown did after allowing his aides to talk up an early election in 2008.

He was forever branded a ‘bottler’. Gambler Boris Johnson is less of a bottler, more of a bolter – in more ways than one.

Intriguingly, I am told that Isaac Levido, the Australian polling guru who engineered Mr Johnson’s victorious 2019 election campaign, has been going out of his way to dampen talk of a 2023 contest.

That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.